A light, cheerful color scheme, ample sunshine streaming through windows on three sides, decorative touches of wicker and copper and vintage-looking tile … Oso is a new addition to the historic Paseo Arts District, but its comfortable Southwestern vibe already feels perfectly at home.
The cozy taqueria-and-then-some from Humankind Hospitality has seating available around three sides of the blond bar, or at the scattering of tables facing Dewey – but as the seasons change and the sun rescues us from the depth of winter, one of Oso’s primary draws will be the 10 tables on the shaded patio to the restaurant’s south. On the other hand, that patio’s overhead heaters may be sufficient to keep it as an option even in these chillier times. Frankly, it would be worth braving a far less comfortable environment in order to get yourself outside some of the tastiness whipped up by chefs Ryan Parrott and Chris McKenna.
I can save you a bit of time in perusing the menu if it’s your first visit: You’ll definitely want both the street corn (shaved off the cob and swirled in a mild chipotle cream) and tater tots (topped with cheese, bacon, avocado sauce and a runny egg) for the table to accompany the complimentary duros, which are a type of crispy pasta that reminded us in taste and texture of pork rinds. The ahi tuna tostadas are also tempting, although more difficult to share with multiple people. Plus, loath as I am to steer you away from the taco menu, the Left Coast Burrito’s mix of grilled shrimp, shaved steak and tater tots is pretty thoroughly sublime.
Speaking of the tacos, consider the concept as less a specific dish and more an artistic medium, able to wrap a vast array of possibilities inside a sturdy corn tortilla that you can barely fold closed around the hefty fillings: fried fish, pork carnitas, grilled chicken and squirts of their house quartet of sauces. The brisket is outstanding, and might be even better if you leave the fried pickle out to eat as a side bite – it’s fine, but the beef is so savory and tender it’s worth appreciating a mouthful with fewer taste distractions. And while it’s tempting to stay quiet about this in hopes of saving as much of it as possible for myself, I strongly, emphatically, unhesitatingly recommend the chorizo.
There’s even plenty of good news for vegetarians in the form of vegan enchiladas, or tacos featuring marinated cauliflower, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and even nopales (cactus), which is a comparatively rare option around these parts.
No judgment if you fill yourself to absolute capacity with the main menu’s offerings – but if you can pace yourself, the perfectly done churros sparkling with cinnamon sugar are an excellent way to top off your feast. They’re even accompanied by a cup of soft-serve ice cream, with extra-long spoons to make sharing a little easier.
I should also mention that craft cocktails are a big point of emphasis for Oso, and the effort put into concocting some killer beverages is paying off in a big way for customers. If you want something flashy, there’s a certain swagger inherent in sipping the tequila-and-rum Montezuma from a hollowed-out pineapple, or the coconut containing the Vallarta Colada’s delectable mixture of mezcal, tequila and honey. However, my personal frontrunner is the Smoking Mirror; its passionfruit puree gives it sweetness without being overpowering, and the smoked tea leaves on top add complexity to its aroma. (Plus, opportunities to impress your drinking companions with your knowledge of Aztec mythology aren’t particularly plentiful, so this is a good way to name-drop Tezcatlipoca in conversation organically).
So, do go to Oso – I know that this time of year can carry with it a fairly strong urge to hibernate, but the sooner you round up a couple of friends and go bear hunting in the Paseo, the happier your taco-loving palate will be.