In Europe, people watching is a favorite pastime of eaters outdoors. Restaurants commonly embrace outdoor spaces that value voyeurism. While it’s not in Europe—and the food is decidedly American—Union Kitchen & Tap’s design lends itself to that looky-loo mentality. Diners seated around the perimeter of the restaurant have a bird's-eye view of sidewalk strollers through the unenclosed siding.
Union Kitchen & Tap’s interior is a far cry from the space’s former inhabitant, When in Rome—an aging spot that turned charming in the evening. The new, polished urban decor is a sight for sore surfer eyes, with effective use of wood, both beamed and on tables.
Chefs toggle between using their own produce and that grown locally by area farmers, when possible. Bacon is house-smoked and beef is from Brandt Farms in nearby Brawley. With so much emphasis on good meat, it might be tempting to pass on an array of unexpectedly delightful vegetarian options, like Quinoa Sweet Potato Cakes with ratatouille. The beet salad, a dining out staple, is, however, unappealing.
Keeping up with the artisanal vibe, beers, roughly 20 on rotation, are craft and wines are from small wineries.
Brunch is served on the weekends and the offerings aren’t shabby. Think: Brioche Egg in a Hole with pork belly and chive hollandaise. The place is also one of the few in the county that serves beignets.
Prices are somewhat steep for various items, yet on the mark for others. Since the experience and ingredients remain consistent during happy hour, it might be worth paying a weekday visit between 4 and 6 p.m. for drink specials and half-priced flatbreads, like prosciutto, egg, burrata and arugula.
Union Kitchen & Tap is located at 1108 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas.