It’s the simple things

VisionFire/Bruce Murray

With straightforward comfort food and prices stuck
in time, Halifax’s diners have lasting appeal


he classic diner is a staple of Halifax’s restaurant scene, boasting hearty food, friendly service, and menus as reliably unchanging as the décor. Recently, Halifax Magazine visited some of the city’s favourites.

Photo by Bruce Murray/VisionFire

The Armview Restaurant and Lounge on Chebucto Road, which just celebrated its 65th anniversary, boasts a retro-but-hip vibe. The menu still features classics like the Dagwood and a selection of burgers, while the drink menu includes several Nova Scotian wines. The space keeps its charm with the small booths and nostalgic décor. The lounge in the former barbershop space is popular with the after-work crowd on Fridays. You can even get a shot of booze in your classic milkshake.
John’s Lunch on Pleasant Street in Dartmouth has been in the same building since opening in 1969. Its original counter has been washed so many times that the pattern is coming off. The space is getting new siding and an awning this year, but manager Kathy Hilchey says the menu is staying the same. And that’s why people love it. Favourites include fresh fish and chips, homemade coleslaw, and roast-turkey clubhouse sandwiches. Hilchey, who’s worked here for 20 years, say she stays for the people: “We have the nicest regulars you’ll ever meet.”
Jim’s Family Restaurant owner James Mihelakos worked in the city’s restaurant scene for years and decided to branch out on his own with his Bedford Highway spot in 1988. In the 1990s, he took out the back parking lot and added more seating, giving customers a view of the Bedford Basin. The counter and stools remain in the front. And the menu has changed little, offering breakfast, pizza, donairs, seafood, and Greek moussaka. “People know they will get a large quantity for a great price and the food will taste great,” says Voula Mihelakos, who now runs Jim’s with her husband George (Jim’s youngest son).
Service at Westcliffe Diner on Oxford Street starts when you fill out your order on a slip of paper and hand to Bev or Tyler Griswold, the owners, who also cook and serve. Not much has changed here over the decades. The food is inexpensive; the priciest (using the term relatively) dish on the menu is the three-piece fish and chips at $7.50. Everything else is $5 or less. Bev and Tyler are swift on their feet and seem to know everyone. Hot, fresh, and straight-up classic comfort food.
Brothers Peter, John, George, and Bill Kanellakos opened Cousin’s Restaurant on Robie Street 55 years ago. Peter is the only brother who hasn’t retired from the business. “We try to do something nice for the people and our prices are very good,” he says. The last time he changed the prices was about seven years ago. The menu here is a multi-page laminated book with everything from liver and onions to Greek dishes. Server Brenda Munro has worked here for 30 years and has customers from outside the city. One family comes in from Bridgewater for the homemade pea soup. “We get a good crowd,” she says. “We have a good reputation.”

Photo by Bruce Murray/VisionFire

The Chickenburger is a Bedford landmark. While the menu now includes a veggie burger and gluten-free buns, the core offerings (including its eponymous chicken burger) have stayed the same since it opened in 1940. Seafood, burgers, fries, milkshakes, root-beer floats, and the retro neon lights and music exert a nostalgic pull on customers. Manager Amanda Stirling has worked here for 20 years. Her grandmother brought her here when she was a young girl. “I think it has a special place in a lot of people’s hearts,” she says.
The Ardmore Tearoom opened in 1958 on Quinpool Road. Today, it’s the undisputed diner-breakfast king of Halifax. Mike Cormier took over ownership in 2012 and striped down the menu to focus on the best sellers, like breakfast. There are often lineups down the street and the crowd includes students nursing hangovers and business people getting lunch. “We use good ingredients, most everything is homemade, and everyone is welcome,” Cormier says. Forget your debit or credit cards: cash only.

Photo by Bruce Murray/VisionFire

The building that houses Hellas Family Restaurant on Sackville Drive is the same as it was before the 1940s when it was a general store. John Giannakos’s parents opened a restaurant here in June 1969. Giannakos started working at the family restaurant when he was a kid. Back then, Lower Sackville was a fast-growing community. “We supplied a lot of meals to construction workers,” Giannakos says. The menu at Hellas hasn’t changed much, although there are a few new items like fish tacos. Everything is made from scratch; the gravy is a family recipe. Giannakos says the customers are still family, too: “We’ve seen them grow older and they’ve seen us grow older.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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