Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

As I bite into the XO Deluxe smashburger — two seared short rib brisket-and-chuck patties topped with American cheese, pickles, secret sauce, lettuce, and tomato and wrapped in Marin’s buttery potato buns — it’s quickly clear that this is no everyday burger, as the many components tie into one delightfully manageable bite. 

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

It’s mouthwatering, but not heavy, and an ideal size: not so big that you have an awkward amount of messy leftovers, nor so tall that you have to stretch your jaw to the max. So you can eschew that to-go box or fork ’n’ knife — this burger thrives in the present. 

“The short rib and brisket are what make it rich and indulgent,” explained Chef William Wright, who created the menu at XO Santa Barbara, located in the heart of the Funk Zone. “I just think it’s a really well-balanced and a very well-composed burger. I really wanted it to be a clean-eating burger. Hopefully, there’s a touch of that culinary thought to it.”

A former semi-finalist as one of the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chefs, Wright came to town from Houston in November 2021 to help develop this latest concept for Sherry Villanueva’s Acme Hospitality. XO Santa Barbara occupies the unabashedly pink dining room on East Yanonali Street that was formerly home to Tyger Tyger, the Asian street food concept that didn’t survive the pandemic. But Dart Coffee still shares space inside, although most of its patrons wind up drinking their brews in the garden across the street. And the ice cream corner persists as well, selling Straus Organic soft serve.

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Flipping smashburgers is definitely a change in the narrative for Wright, who attended cooking school in Italy and has worked in Michelin-starred kitchens. But he recognized the Acme name as a unique opportunity and developed a menu that emphasizes quality rather than quantity. 

XO Santa Barbara’s Chef Caleb Laub | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

In fact, he’s already moving up the Acme ladder since I ate my burger and is now working in the kitchen of The Lark. Taking his place is Chef Caleb Laub, who had been XO’s sous chef after jobs at Brass Bear, Night Lizard, and Patxi’s.

Other burger variations include the Spicy Avocado with American Cheese, with pickled jalapeño, spicy chili sauce, and kimchi, and, as an homage to Tyger Tyger, the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, with tingly Szechuan spice, toasted chili oil, brussels, and green apple slaw. Condiment lovers will rejoice in their bounty of hand-crafted dipping options such as buttermilk herbed ranch and the addictive black garlic aioli. Rounding out the menu are fries and salads, like the garden veggie, whose baby greens, carrot, cauliflower, celery, fennel, golden raisins, and sesame lemon dressing are a pleasing burger counterpart. 

“I have a little more of an upscale background and hopefully the burgers reflect that,” said Wright. “Our main goal is to keep building this up and get ready for the busy season ahead.”

121 E. Yanonali St.; @xosantabarbara

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