Things I Love About PEI – The Canton Cafe

A Canadian Chinese restaurant dishes out great food and friendly atmosphere in downtown Charlottetown

Helen Tran, the Canton Cafe, a wide smile and she remembers your voice (S. Pate photo)

You won’t find posh seats or fancy wallpaper but inside the Canton Cafe is some of the best Chinese food on PEI served up by fantastic people who remember your voice.

Since 1967 the Canton Cafe has been the goto place for a mid-day, supper or late night dish of great Chinese food. They stay open until 2 AM and the late night traffic is busy.

The staff is always a treat to know, especially Helen Tran who has worked there for 25 years. Helen is the friendly face you meet and the friendly voice on the phone for take out orders.  It’s real hospitality PEI style.

If you’re a regular, Helen can recognize your voice and know what you want before you can say the words. “Some people just call me and say I need a pick up,” Helen told me smiling shyly. “I know their voice and what they order.”

When I call it’s always “Hello Stephen” with a smile. With thousands of regular customers, Helen makes every one of them feel special and wanted.

Canton Cafe – great Chinese food and friendly people (S. Pate photo)

When I took her picture for this story, she told the couple waiting “I remember Stephen 25 years ago. Stephen came in every Sunday with his boys all dressed in his white shirt, tie and your hair slicked back.”

“I only worked Sunday and you were here every Sunday after church,” she said with a big smile.

As the people came and went for their supper time take-out orders, there were jokes and gibes all around. People offered to help others carry out food. Helen ruled over it all from behind the counter.

Back in the 1980s’, George the previous owner remembered names and children. He often sent me home with chocolate bars for my two boys who were pure badness if I took them to the restaurant. “Your boys good boys,” George would admonish me. “Not bad.”

Best bets – best egg rolls on PEI, house special fried rice, shrimp with Chinese vegetables, everyone’s favorite sweet and sour chicken balls and Chinese tea.

It may not be China Town in Montreal or Spadina in Toronto, but Charlottetown’s Canton Cafe is one of the things I love about PEI. If you go, tell Helen I said hello.


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