A truly excellent açaí bar with coffee that’s just OK.
I’ve been coming to Helen’s Café and Juice Bar for almost two years. There – that’s my disclaimer, and it should also tell you a bit about the quality of this place.
Helen’s is a café in name more than function. Yes, there’s a working coffee machine, and, yes, you see people occasionally getting chai lattes here, but the real drawcards are the downright exceptional açaí bowls and juices.
1/29 James St, Burleigh Heads QLD 4220
Helen’s is located about halfway down James Street, the every-busy heart of Burleigh Heads, competing with dozens of equally hip coffee houses and casual restaurants. Next door is Helen’s Bulk Foods, an organic supplies store that used to be owned by the same person (Helen) before the café split and went under new management.
Step off the street, and you’re in a space that somehow feels crowded and spacious at the same time. White walls, porcelain tiling, and a streetside dining bar keep things airy, but the presence of low-hanging pot plants and a chaotic sprawl of customers and tables means there’s not much room to breathe.
The good news is that Helen’s doesn’t try too hard. The seating is mostly metal stools and black steel chairs. The tables are plain wood. Surfers and swimmers walk in with salt-tangled hair, clad in damp towels and sunburn. This is a sandals-and-sandy-feet kind of joint, so who cares if things get a bit messy?
You order at the counter, which includes a single coffee machine and a massive refrigerated cabinet loaded with ready-to-eat food.
I’ll be blunt: Helen’s isn’t really a service-focused eatery, but it gets away with it because the food is so good. The wait times can stretch over 20 minutes during peak hours, and, when your meal’s ready, a staff member will dash out of the kitchen, shouting your name as they scan the room.
Not that anyone seems to mind. After all, you come here to relax after a few hours at the beach, not have a five-star dining experience.
What’s On the Menu
There are two sides to Helen’s: the diverse range of crushes, juices, açaí bowls, and smoothies, and the café-oriented cabinet food and coffee. It’s a Burleigh eatery, so they’re well-stocked with plenty of vegan and gluten-free items.
The cabinet food looks decent – there’s a fairly wide variety of wraps, baked goods, and slices, all crafted along the same organic, health-conscious lines as the rest of the menu.
What I Ate
On the day I conducted this review, I ordered my usual (an açaí bowl), as well as an iced long black.
So, spoiler alert: the açaí bowls here are great. Better than great. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they’re the best I’ve had – ever. I ordered a large normal açaí bowl and added protein powder, fruit, and peanut butter, which clocked in at a not-unreasonable $20.
Helen’s use Prana protein powder in their açaí bowls, which thickens the açaí and gives it a sweeter-than-normal taste. I added berry-flavoured protein, but some of the other bowls come standard with vanilla. If you’re an acai purist, skip the protein.
Fruit is a bit of a must-have, in my opinion. Açaí bowls are, at their core, tropical dishes, and a topping of fruit lends them a completeness that’s otherwise missing. You get blueberries, passionfruit, sliced Granny Smith apples, strawberries, and banana.
The peanut butter comes in several generous scoops, and it’s worth keeping in mind that this is super-crunchy organic stuff, not the smooth Kraft concoctions that you buy at Woolies. It’s decidedly chewy and thick – not great on a sandwich, but perfect as a topping for açaí.
Of course, no self-respecting açaí bowl would be complete without granola. Helen’s toasted granola is fantastic, and they don’t skimp on it, either. We’re talking about a bowl stuffed beyond the brim, so much so that digging in can sometimes trigger a cascade of coconut strips and oats. There’s also a layer of crunch at the bottom that acts as a coda for the dish – you definitely get your money’s worth.
What I Drank
At the start of this review, I mentioned that the coffee at Helen’s is just OK. The large iced long black with three shots that I ordered came in at $7 – your average GC café charges between $5.50 and $6 for a large iced long black with four shots. The açaí bowls feel worth it; the coffee doesn’t.
The drink I had was also decidedly average – a lighter blend with a mild acidity that quickly becomes near-tasteless as the ice melts. Helen’s coffee seems like a value-add, a way to meet customer expectations and increase sale size in an eatery that just wants to focus on açaí bowls and juices. From that angle, it works – but you probably won’t be coming back for seconds.
Despite average coffee and occasionally slow wait times, Helen’s is an iconic venue with amazing açaí. Come here once, and it’ll quickly become a weekend favourite.
Large Iced Long Black, Extra Shot
Large Normal Açaí Bowl, Protein Powder + Fruit + Peanut Butter