January 2019

The New Old Standby: Santa Fe Café.. The constant reinvention of an island institution.

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Common wisdom states that if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. It’s essentially a way of reinforcing stasis and stagnation, implying that change is almost never for the better.

That common wisdom doesn’t apply to Santa Fe Café. Here, despite the many things that stay the same year in and year out, there’s an almost unquenchable desire to fix what can be fixed, to improve upon the experience in ways that border on the subliminal.

“Every year, we close after Thanksgiving, so there’s always something,” said Marshall Sampson, owner of Santa Fe Café. “We try to at least do something new.”

This year’s post-Thanksgiving project was beautiful new flooring, an impressive undertaking that seems like a minor refresh compared to the major project that was the rebirth of their rooftop bar and patio last year. More than just a makeover, the rooftop experience was completely rethought, with a seldom used secondary kitchen being removed to make way for more seating and more room to enjoy the fresh air. The addition of an expansive new bar and state-of-the-art sound system helped create one of the best places on the island to watch a game and enjoy a few drinks.

And if you’re thinking to yourself that this year’s bone-chilling temps mean it’s too cold to enjoy a rooftop bar, you’re in for a surprise. Just plant yourself next to the wide mouth of the outdoor fireplace and enjoy a warm and cozy rooftop experience you won’t find anywhere else.

“We’re really proud of how that turned out,” Sampson said. “The entire rooftop bar was a labor of love for us.”

Of course, Santa Fe Café isn’t only defined by the things it changes. It’s also defined by the things that stay the same. For example, the staff. Maintaining many of the same people for years on end has allowed Santa Fe Café to deliver a consistent product, in both the back and front of the house. From Sampson’s partner Sean Crosby to chefs Austin Harris and Dave Strosnider and the friendly faces mixing drinks, greeting guests and taking orders, it’s a familiar cast of favorites that have stood the test of time.

“Our core staff has been here a long time,” Sampson said. “When guests come in, they know their names and they know what they want. They’re really professional, and it shows in their service.”

But of course, you can’t talk about Santa Fe Café’s brilliance in treading the line between consistency and experimentation without talking about the food. Fueled by regular trips to the American Southwest to sample the flavors of authentic Mexican American fusion, the menu broadens the horizons of what those flavors can do. The aromatics of real wood smoke cut through spices and sauces on Mexican-inspired fare from tacos to enchiladas, while a dedicated aging process creates cuts of beef that could go toe-to-toe with any gourmet steakhouse in the world.

Whether you’re ordering something unforgettable for that special occasion, or a few happy hour tacos to enjoy on the rooftop, you get the same dedication on every plate.

“A lot of love and care has been put into everything we do.”

Santa Fe Café is located in Plantation Center, 807 William Hilton Parkway, #700, Hilton Head Island. For more information, visit https://santafehhi.com or call (843) 785-3838.

  1. I’ve always thought you were right at the top. I’ve been here 15 years!


    — Lynne Hall (Einloth)    Jan 2, 04:46 pm   

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