I stumbled upon Helen’s Cafe completely by accident. I had no idea such an eatery even existed until I happen to drive by on my way to a meeting a couple of blocks away and came upon their sidewalk sign. Helen’s Cafe is located on the main floor of a commercial office building just off 32nd Ave on 12 Street NE. It is quite an odd location for an authentic Chinese eatery.
I tried to find out more information about Helen’s Cafe online but there was very little about them. They are not even listed on Urbanspoon nor Yelp. I was really curious so I convinced my food blogger friend, Anna of Anna’s Appetite, and her SO to join me there for dinner one evening.
The dinner menu at Helen’s Cafe mainly comprises of mainly of Northeastern Chinese cuisine and authentic Sichuan cuisine. Though Northeastern China and Sichuan are geographically far apart, I was told by our server the reason they are able to serve both style of cuisines is because their chef has training and experience in both.
It’s too bad during the lunch hour, their menu caters to the nearby office crowd and the authentic Sichuan dishes are not available. Otherwise, I’d get my coworkers with me to go and check it out.
On this visit, we decided to focus on the Northeastern Chinese fare. Since this is my first time trying Northeastern Chinese cuisine, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
We started off with an order of the Northern Style Potato Jelly Curd ($5.95). The noodle-like curd is actually listed as da la pi (translated to mean ” big pulled skin”) in Chinese but actually resembled the mung bean noodle sheets often known as fen pi. This was a cold vegetarian appetizer dish that was served with a mild tangy sesame based sauce and included julienned woodear funghi, carrots, cucumber, and fried egg. This dish was delicious and easily one of the better examples of fen pi that I’ve had. It had just the right amount of sauce to coat the mung bean noodle sheets without everything drowning in sauce. I would definitely order this dish again on my next visit.
Next we tried the Stewed Chicken with Mushrooms ($13.95). Our server had warned us that the chicken in this dish may seem overcooked/chewy to the Western and/or Southern Chinese palate but that it was authentically prepared and was supposed to be that way. We decided to try it anyways since this was a classic Northeastern Chinese (Dong bei) dish. Indeed, as she had forewarned us, the chicken meat did seem to be rather chewy. However, I did like the flavourful broth that the chicken was stewed in and the mushrooms were rather interesting. Instead of the common shiitake mushrooms, they used various different wild Chinese mushrooms in this dish.
Our third dish was the Stir-Fried Eggplant, Green Pepper, and Potato ($9.95). Again, this was another classic Dong Bei dish. This dish was very well-executed and flavourful. I liked that the vegetables were perfectly al dente and not mushy.
Lastly, we had an order of the Handmade Dumplings ($10 for 20 pieces), which included dumplings with several different fillings. The fillings included shredded carrot & beef, pickled cabbage (suan cai) & minced pork, and chives & minced pork. All of these fillings are typical of Northeastern Chinese (Dong bei) style dumplings. These Handmade Dumplings were definitely one of our favourite dishes of the evening.
Helen’s Cafe was definitely an interesting find. It’s nice to see we have eateries in Calgary serving up regional Chinese cuisine that is unique and different from what one normally would get as the majority of Chinese places here serves Cantonese or Sichuan fare. I believe Helen’s Cafe, is one of the few, if not the only Chinese restaurant serving up Northeastern (Dong bei) Chinese cuisine in Calgary. I’d definitely be interested in going back to try their Sichuan dishes to see how they compare to other authentic Sichuan restaurants around town.
#106, 3115 12 Street NE