Cynthia Burke on San Juan Island

Chef Cynthia Burke on San Juan Island
Cynthia Burke on San Juan Island

If you know anything about Cynthia Burke, you know she makes good food. It’s not necessarily a work of art. Her kitchen isn’t equipped with tweezers. Her staff doesn’t make gold leaf garnishes. And her cuisine doesn’t fall into a specific Mexican, Italian or Mediterranean camp. 

Rather her meals are delicious. The plates on her menu are what she’d serve if you stopped by her home for brunch — or in recent developments — dinner. While her intimate Friday Harbor restaurant will continue to offer brunch on Sunday, it’s turned over a new leaf for the 2023 season: dinner.

Previously Cynthia offered dinner on a pop-up and catering basis. But now visitors can book a table for a leisurely evening respite loaded with flavor and texture. Weather permitting, seating spills on the back patio, a lush private space that feels like a hidden garden. Menu offerings are expected to change based on the seasonal availability of ingredients and the whims of the chef. But patrons can expect a selection of hearty soups, fresh fish, and flavorful veggies.

Dreams of Owning a Restaurant (in a man’s world)

Cynthia got her start at the best kind of elbows, her Grand’Mere and her father. But it wasn’t until graduating from High School that she really dove into the restaurant scene. With dreams of running her own kitchen, the West Seattle native studied under renowned local chefs, such as Michelle Deville.

She was trained in classic French cooking methods, including the foundational ‘mirepoix’ (which focuses on succulent sauces and heart soups) along with the Escoffier method (an approach to cooking seasonally-inspired dishes using farm-fresh ingredients). As she worked her way up from the ground floor, she spent time in prominent kitchens at The Seattle Tennis Club and Ray’s Boathouse — learning to work the line and produce high-quality banquet food.

But in 1979, she decided to leave the old boy’s club behind in favor of opening her own business — Cynthia’s Lincoln Park Deli. It was the first of several different solo proprietorships. That initial venture allowed her to learn about running a business, gain critical customer service skills, and flex her creative muscles as a chef.

Cynthia’s Bistro in Friday Harbor

Over the years, Cynthia opened a deli in Maui and then established a renowned catering business in Friday Harbor — Cynthia’s, Of Course. In 2012, she founded Red Checkered Picnics, a seasonal food and beverage stand. Located at Lime Kiln State Park, she operated the stand for several seasons until she sold it to another local entrepreneur.

In 2015 that she gave her food a brick and mortar home on San Juan Island — the sliver of paradise where she and her husband put down roots, raised their daughters, and are still proud to call home. Located near the corner of Nichols Street West and A Street in downtown Friday Harbor, she set up shop in a renovated 1920s home. 

The building is filled with quirky charm, including a slightly sloping floor, local art, and the quaint kind of front porch that makes you want to linger for a casual mid-day chat. It’s not a fancy joint, though you wouldn’t be out of place arriving in a skirt. Rather, it’s the kind of restaurant that’s unassumingly unctuous. Like a great-grandmother enveloping you in a hug, if your great-grandmother was a classically-trained chef who had traveled the world and filled her spice cabinet with exotic flavors, that is.

Call to make a reservation: 360.298.8130.