Life in Santa Barbara affords us an embarrassment of riches, but I’ve been bothered for years by a glaring gap in my hometown’s résumé: Where are the wings? With heartfelt apologies to all who have tried — I see you and I commend your efforts — our fair city has not produced truly memorable buffalo wings since Spike’s in Goleta shut its doors late last century.
That drought is now over. With a quiet debut on Milpas Street earlier this year, Wingman Rodeo is bringing the heat, fun, and flavor back to Santa Barbara.
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“Our motivation is pretty simple: We wanted to make the best damn wings ever,” explains owner Colton Krueger. “Everyone loves wings. But the ones from big chains are pretty mediocre, and their branding is super boring. Since I’m from Texas, and as a kid pretended to be a cowboy, I wanted to incorporate a playful cowboy vibe to the brand. Wings are the most fun food to eat, so the brand had to be fun too.”
Sharing space with brunch-and-lunch powerhouse The Shop, Wingman offers an array of non-discriminating mouth-watering options from oh-my-god-that’s-amazing wings to savory tempura cauliflower salads and bites. I kept things simple on my first order — 16 classic wings with Buffalo and Cali BBQ sauces — as I hoped to share the love with my wife and kids.
“Hoped” was the operative word, as I made it mere blocks before the tempting aromas forced me to pull over. I happily dug in before noticing a group of hysterical teens who’d apparently never seen a middle-aged bald dude attack wings outside of an AutoZone. Hashtag “wingsdontcare,” kids.
“The secret to a great wing is it has to be crispy, juicy, and tender,” Krueger revealed. “Getting all three right can’t be done by just plopping wings in a fryer. You have to put in time and care. Our bone-in wings go through an eight-hour process, and our boneless wings are hand-dredged just like you would get from a good fried chicken spot in the South. After that, it’s all about the sauce. My father-in-law is a BBQ pitmaster, and BBQ guys are mad-scientist-like about creating flavors. He helped us develop most of our sauces and dips.”
I’ve been back multiple times — the Crispy Chicken Burrito being my latest jam — and if my fingers weren’t covered in bourbon pineapple sauce, I’d wipe tears of joy over the clear rebirth of Santa Barbara wing culture. Chow your own on the patio that’s currently open for outdoor dining, and just wait until things open back up again: The shared restaurant is now home to a re-constructed dining room that will become the go-to spot for Monday Night Football, whenever that happens again.
“Our flavors run the gamut from spicy, sweet, and savory, and all of them are made in-house,” said Krueger. “If you’re craving good food with bold flavor, then come join the Rodeo.”
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