Navigating New York City can be challenging for people with disabilities, although some improvements have been made, from pedestrian ramps to a taxi hotline, Accessible Dispatch. The Restaurant Access Program (RAP), created in 2013, allows qualifying establishments to display “Wheelchair Friendly” decals.
Still, dig deeper, advises David Friedman, the blog creator of The Disabled Foodie. “When you call a restaurant, you have to ask very specific questions,” he says. “Is there a step in front? Are the aisles passable? Will the bathroom fit a wheelchair and are there grab bars? And how many grab bars?”
Read on to learn about 10 spots that get it right.
Pier 17, 89 South St., The Seaport, Manhattan
The redeveloped Pier 17, in the South Street Seaport, features open-air thoroughfares, waterfront views and hardwood decking—perfect for summertime. Carne Mare, an upscale seafood restaurant and chophouse located on the pier, is part of NoHo Hospitality, whose executive chef, Andrew Carmellini, is behind Locanda Verde, Lafayette and The Dutch. Yellowfin tuna tartare, spicy crab lettuce cups, boneless rib eye and salt-baked black sea bass are standouts. Roomy bathrooms are on the second floor and can be reached by an elevator.
88 E. 111th St., East Harlem, Manhattan
Contento is the gold standard when it comes to being hospitable to all. Two of its owners—Yannick Benjamin and George Gallego—use wheelchairs, so the layout includes space at the bar that’s at the right height, comfortable tables, clear passageways and thoughtfully designed bathrooms. In 2021, The New YorkTimes named it one of the City’s top 10 new restaurants, lauding its wine list. The interior is elegant, as is an outdoor dining shed festooned with flowers. The Peruvian-inspired menu features octopus with black chimichurri and cauliflower gazpacho and beautifully seared tuna steak with Peruvian corn succotash.
15 W. 46th St., Midtown West, Manhattan
Convenient to the Theatre District, Emporium Brasil features wide-enough doors and well-spaced tables. The accommodating staff is another bonus. On the extensive Brazilian menu, highlights include abundant seafood stew brightened with tomato sauce; tender chicken breast in a creamy hearts of palm sauce; and classic feijoada (black bean stew with smoked pork and beef, collard greens and orange slices). Cocktails are well made and wine pours are generous. Although it’s a favorite for David Friedman before hitting a Broadway show, he reports that the bathroom is OK though not ideal.
2339 Arthur Ave., Belmont, the Bronx
Enzo’s, which is wheelchair accessible, is one the Bronx’s most delightful Italian restaurants. Service is attentive and portions are huge. The old-school menu sports many of the cuisine’s greatest hits, from scrumptious linguine with clams to lemony-buttery chicken francese to breaded veal cutlet heaped with salad. They also make a mean thin-crust pizza. Open for lunch and dinner, it’s a reliable choice before or after visits to the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden.
28-17 Jackson Ave., Long Island City, Queens
Jacx & Co, a swanky food hall and cocktail bar with an industrial design and multiple seating arrangements, opened in Long Island City in 2020. Wide aisles, indoor ramps and an elevator to reach the downstairs bathroom (large stall with grab bars) make it very accessible. The perimeter features a lineup of vendors, including Lotus + Cleaver, which serves health-focused Cantonese food, and Mèxology, dishing out freshly prepared chicken quesadillas and mahi-mahi tacos. At Beebe’s, get the “white heat” pizza, topped with mozzarella, ricotta, pickled chili, hot sausage, pepperoni and hot honey. And do stop at Ghaya for dreamy sweets and specialty tea drinks.
172 Seventh Ave., Chelsea, Manhattan
Le Zie, in Chelsea, has a level entryway and broad aisles between tables. Ali Stroker, the first wheelchair user to win a Tony (for her role as Ado Annie, in the 2019 revival of Oklahoma!), has endorsed it. The trattoria is a relaxing neighborhood haunt, with a good Italian wine list, crisply fried calamari and zucchini with spicy tomato sauce, classic chicken parmigiana and rosemary-scented veal ragu coating al dente rigatoni. There are also outdoor tables and an accessible lounge with its own entrance on West 20th Street, just around the corner.
2750 Broadway, Upper West Side, Manhattan
The pizza here is killer, the reason why there’s almost always a line out the entrance. Because of this, there’s always someone there to hold the door. The pizzeria is cramped, limiting the number of people allowed in to survey the ready-made pies, make a snap decision and wait on the sidewalk for the order to appear. Outdoor seating, which includes a handful of tables, is reached by a gentle ramp and is the best place for wheelchair users to sit. There is no wrong choice, but the slices with mushrooms, caramelized onions and whipped ricotta or the Angry Nonna (aged mozzarella, plum tomato sauce, hot soppressata, hot honey) are particularly delicious.
1191 First Ave., Upper East Side, Manhattan
Maya is festive, attracting large groups of friends and family. The doorway is wide, and there’s space to maneuver around tables in the bar-lounge and dining areas. Richard Sandoval, the chef behind the restaurant, is a pioneer when it comes to contemporary Latin cuisine and assembling an impressive collection of tequila and mezcal. Shareable highlights include freshly made guacamole, bubbling queso fundido and slow-braised pork carnitas with avocado puree and black beans.
84-02 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, Queens
Pio Pio, the Peruvian chicken specialist, has several locations in NYC, but David Friedman, the Disabled Foodie, gives the Jackson Heights branch his seal of approval for its level entrance, spaciousness and getting the bathroom right. Ordering the juicy rotisserie chicken with secret-recipe green sauce is a given, and the avocado salad and salchipapa (sliced up Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and French fries) are highly recommended and affordably priced. The sangria here packs a punch.
816 Washington Ave., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
The Social is a sweet comeback story, an ice cream parlor from the founders of Ample Hills, a Brooklyn couple whose whimsical flavors enjoyed a cult following. Pre-pandemic, Jackie Cuscuna and Brian Smith overexpanded, filed for bankruptcy and sold the company in 2020. Their new scoop shop, in Prospect Heights, is commodious and features a large party room. All of the flavors are new, too, including Orange Dreamsicle, The Old Ballgame (infused with popcorn and peanut brittle) and vegan Fudge Crackle stuffed with chocolate-coated Rice Krispies. They’re also making a variety of doughnuts from scratch. What makes it a favorite stop for David Friedman is a level entrance with a wide door, being able to easily read the flavor names and descriptions and a staff that’s happy to help.