Everyone should be able to book a table, enter a restaurant, review a menu, and place an order, but dining out can be fraught with challenges for people with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires restaurants to ensure wheelchairs have room to move, offer to read menus to people who are blind, and communicate with people who are deaf. While many have a long way to go, a growing number of places across America are changing the game when it comes to championing accessibility and hiring inclusively.
In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, meet some revolutionary places that get things right all year long. Read on for a guide to seven US restaurants leading the charge on accessible dining.
Steak 44 – Phoenix, AZ
Jonathan Sleiman, who is autistic, started training at Steak 44 in 2020. Three years later, he’s a key part of the food prep process at the modern steakhouse. Sleiman’s role is just one example of how the restaurant is a trailblazer for including more people who are neurodivergent on its team—a mission led by its parent company Prime Steak Concepts, which spearheaded a training program to hire more people with autism throughout the company.
Prairie Grass Café – Northbrook, IL
Award-winning chef Sarah Stegner is the force behind Prairie Grass Cafe, a New American restaurant that’s a prototype for what inclusive dining looks—and sounds—like. This August, the restaurant hosted “sensory-friendly dining hours” to welcome people with autism and other sensitivities. That means the farm-to-table spot limited the number of reservations, dimmed the lights, switched off the music, and told servers to check in less often. Diners were encouraged to bring noise-canceling headphones and fidget toys. The series was especially loved by parents of children with autism, and Stegner is committed to bringing it back soon.
Soul Cafe – West Bloomfield, MI
Soul Cafe, which launched in 2016, was created as an extension of Friendship Circle, a nonprofit dedicated to teens with special needs. Today, it’s a popular kosher kitchen cranking out lox plates and cheese blintzes and an uplifting place that provides jobs—and social support—for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Contento – New York City, NY
This acclaimed Peruvian restaurant opened in 2021 and was designed by and for people with disabilities. Two of the owners use wheelchairs, and from the outset, they wanted to welcome their community with a smooth sidewalk, wide aisles, a lower bar, and spacious bathrooms. Sommelier and partner Yannick Benjamin puts out an exceptional wine list, which he personally wheels through the dining room—just one of many ways the restaurant was built with accessibility in mind.
Brewability – Denver, CO
Brewability’s owner Tiffany Fixter was a special education teacher before opening this ultra-inclusive brewery and pizzeria in 2016. The restaurant is primarily staffed by people with disabilities: Fixter was spurred to action after learning that most adults with disabilities in her city were limited to bagging groceries or working on janitorial staff. Her family-friendly gastropub stands out for employing people of all ages and abilities who brew beer, sling pies, and host a steady series of events including live-music evenings and bingo nights.
Pah! – Portland, OR
When Pah! opened in 2022, it became the first Portland restaurant to use ASL slang on its menu (fittingly, the restaurant’s name is ASL for “success” or “finally”). The deaf, queer, and Latinx-owned pub comes from partners Lillouie Barrios and Victor Covarrubias, who proudly rock Mexican, LGBTQ, and transgender flags in their pioneering spot. Diners order at the counter by signing or typing, and buzzers vibrate and flash when your burger is up. Barrios and Covarrubias hire deaf employees and hope to expand to more cities—next up, Austin.
Cosmic Cafe – Philadelphia, PA
Chef and owner Peg Botto was a certified Qualified Intellectual Disabilities Professional (QIDP) long before she got into the restaurant business. She opened Cosmic Cafe in 2011 as a farm-to-table hangout before establishing the Cosmic Foundation, an organization that trains and hires people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Botto’s staff doesn’t just work in the beloved riverside cafe serving crowd favorites like breakfast burritos and chicken salad sandwiches—the place also doubles as a training ground for employees who eventually land other job opportunities in Philadelphia.