Located on the corner of 18th and Florida streets, Osito is San Francisco’s only 100 percent live fire, fine-dining restaurant. Having just celebrated its one-year anniversary, Chef Seth Stowaway takes culinary inspiration from his childhood in Texas, his neighbors, and local food purveyors and farmers.
Osito,”little bear” in Spanish, references a significant period in Stowaway’s life.
“When I was first getting sober and found my way into the kitchen at Bar Agricole, my favorite porter there, Medardo, called me ‘osito’ because of my big beard. That was the first community I had in my sober life; I was smoking crack in the Tenderloin before that,” he said.
On Osito’s website, a note from the chef shares that “Our entire journey has been a story of community: the team, makers, farmers, investors and friends whose support is the only reason we made it against the odds.”
Osito emerged during the pandemic, a context that prompted Stowaway to create a venue where people could celebrate together.
“I want Osito to be a place where you can get the kind of care and attention to detail that any fine-dining restaurant offers, but where the focus is on togetherness,” he said. “People are meant to be in community, and to celebrate with each other. We just went through a period where no one got to be together, so this feels even more special, post-pandemic.”
As a 15-year veteran of the Bay Area’s fine dining scene, Stowaway had considerable expertise to draw upon to create a new restaurant, choosing live fire as his medium.
“Committing all the way to live fire determined what was our voice going to be and forced a more specific opinion on palates and tools,” he said. “I wanted to put parameters and restraints on our cooking.”
Having built relationships with local farmers and ranchers Stowaway’s menus are built around what’s available—not necessarily what’s in market— and what his purveyors are most excited about. Changing every six weeks, the eclectic, seasonal bill of fare honors the diverse group of people that work at Osito. The team identifies a theme and brainstorms ideas together on a shared Google doc.
“It’s not just my opinion at the table,” said Stowaway.
A recent menu was “Game Birds 2: Forest and Festivities,” a celebration of coastal California and the holiday season, inspired by Stowaway’s business partner Jen Yu’s Korean background. It includes a consommé made with liquid from kimchi and her favorite banchan.
The space’s cozy 26-seat communal dining table and central kitchen is decked out in reclaimed Douglas fir and feels reminiscent of a Nordic ski lodge. Stowaway wanted the kitchen next to the dining room so that diners could readily interact with his staff.
“I wanted none of the tablecloth, super-proper side of fine dining, but wanted all the steps of service. These are friends that are serving you,” he said.
Asked to name a few words for which he wishes his guests to remember Osito, he said “comfortable, loving, surprising, child-like wonder. I want people to feel loved at the table.”
Stowaway regularly hears about guests becoming friends. Some patrons with gardens bring him their own produce to use.
“We’re good friends with a lot of restaurants around the Mission,” said Stowaway. “We do a lot of community work with several nonprofits, and interns graduating from culinary programs to help youth or people coming from bad situations.”
He’s thrilled to collaborate with other chefs at Osito, including Slow Burn Takeover, featuring chef team Tiffani Ortiz and Andy Doubraval, and a “celebration of friendship” dinner with Brandon Jew, who he worked with at Bar Agricole.
Having earned a coveted Michelin star last year, Osito is seeing wait times increase for its communal dining experience, which comprises approximately 20 courses; there are nine “drop rounds,” some of which have multiple dishes. Prices range from $215 to $250. Seating is available Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
For those who prefer a more casual, drop-in experience, sister bar Lilliana offers the same intimate ambience, with creative cocktails and food from Osito’s kitchen, next door.