Fine dining restaurants are easy to come by in SF. But Osito is the only fancy place where everything is cooked over a live fire. All nine courses of the $215 tasting menu are prepared over open flames (no burners here). Surprisingly, the perfectly fine food isn’t the most memorable part of a meal at this Mission spot—you’ll leave reflecting mainly on the fire-filled experience, which you can’t get anywhere else in town.
The live-fire kitchen at Osito is flat-out impressive. The only seating option is the wooden communal table that can seat about 22. And if you’re on the side facing the open kitchen—unquestionably the more exciting view—you’re treated to a mesmerizing show of multiple flames blazing in wood-fired ovens and hearths, and staff pulling smoking potatoes out of the ashes, fanning flames with neurosurgery-level focus, and decorating mushroom toast with edible flowers. Throughout all this, the space, which could easily pass for a serene plant store brimming with monsteras and lush hanging ferns, isn’t smoky at all. And just in case you forgot about the whole live-fire thing, almond and oak logs are stacked high along the back wall (you’ll find a similar pile at the entrance to Liliana, their cocktail spot next door).
Another unique aspect of a meal here is the communal dining experience. But don’t worry, you won’t be pressured into any icebreaker games—making small talk with the couple celebrating a 30th anniversary or the group of micro-influencers taking photos with their cocktails is totally optional.
What you’ll actually end up eating depends on the theme, which changes monthly. It might revolve around nostalgic childhood dishes, or “Old World Techniques” (think tomatoes dried over the hearth or custard cooked in ash), and will likely involve lots of meat and seafood. One constant is that food is gorgeously plated, and incorporates ingredients you probably aren’t picking up on a weekly Safeway run. The night might kick off with a trio of one-biters, like melon coated in salsa macha and an oyster with parmigiano reggiano. You’ll bite into intensely smoky rabbit saddle dipped in “rANTch,” a.k.a. ranch dressing mixed with caviar and chicatana ants, or slices of peppery antelope folded up alongside cantaloupe and served with cottage cheese. Everything is placed in front of you by soft-spoken, hyper-attentive servers, who change out plates and cutlery in unison from both sides of the table.
Live-fire theme aside, the entire meal isn’t as groundbreaking or memorable as we’d expect it to be, especially for the high price point. We left thinking less about the few standout dishes and more about the interesting ingredients used, and the techniques that went into jazzing up each one. But if you’re in the market for a big-deal meal for special anniversaries, team dinners on the company card, or anytime you’re looking for something different, there’s no other live-fire restaurant in town. Osito is a unique SF dining experience worth experiencing once.
The tasting menu at Osito changes every month, but here’s an idea of what you can expect.
Antelope and Cantaloupe, Cottage Cheese, Mint
Even if you’ve had antelope before, we bet you’ve never had it served alongside thin slices of cantaloupe and a little scoop of cottage cheese. The interesting dish mostly works, but isn’t necessarily something we’d crave in a week.
Coal Cooked Egg Custard, Haricot Vert, Fermented Mushroom
This egg custard is cooked in ashes until velvety and topped with uni and beans. It’s also served in the actual eggshell, which is fun and frankly adorable.
Lonestar Rye Bread, Hearth Dried Sungolds, Apricot, Cultured Butter, Chanterelle
No, the above description isn’t a haiku or a Mollie Stone’s grocery shopping list. It’s our favorite dish we had on a recent visit. The slightly nutty toast strikes the ideal balance between sweet, salty, and earthy.
Blackberry, Green Mole, Chocolate
The blackberries are especially juicy after being cooked over embers. They complement the complex, and not-too-sweet green mole nicely. It’s a pleasant way to finish things off.