Din Tai Fung

University Village
2621 NE 46th Street
Seattle, WA 98105

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I grew up in a time and place where “ethnic food” meant Chicken Chow Mein at the only Chinese restaurant in town, a place which also served burgers.  That’s why—when I find myself at a place like Din Tai Fung picking up the sweetest vegetarian Taiwanese dumpling on earth in my chopsticks, dipping it in a tasty ginger/soy/vinegar sauce, and popping it in my mouth—I feel lucky.


And make no mistake here:  these aren’t just any old dumplings.  So light they might float from their steamer basket, these dumplings are plump with their spinach and tofu-stuffing and so delicious that you think about them days later.  Dumplings aren’t the only wonderful things to eat at Din Tai Fung.  There are spareribs, katsu, fried noodles, broccoli (or green beans or spinach) with garlic, and delicious mango smoothie/slushes, along with a wide range of other choices—all of them yummy.

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I recommend that you order more than you can eat so you can take the leftovers home.  When you do, the waitstaff—all of them kind and attentive—will pack the leftovers in a beautiful little bag.


When you open that bag, you’ll find your leftover dumplings inside along with little containers of soy, ginger, and vinegar, so you can re-make the dipping sauce.


This kind of attention to detail at Din Tai Fung is completely accessible to all.  Easy parking, spacious passageways between ample tables, and a perfect bathroom make this restaurant a delicious choice for wheelchair travelers.

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Road Trip

Seattle, Washington to Albany, Oregon

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I have loved road trips all my life.  I especially love riding in the car with my beloved pusher as night gathers and stars take the sky or as the gray rain drives down.  The car is an intimate space for talking and sharing music or a book on tape, and “heading down the highway” is a compelling if incorrect metaphor for our lives.

However, since arthritis has settled into my hip, knee, and shoulder joints, I can barely last an hour in the car before the pain catapults me out.  Therefore, it was with some anxiety that I began the trip to Jonathan and Maddi’s wedding in Oregon.  Jonathan is a deeply loved young man whom we rocked to sleep when he was two days old and whom we have walked with through all the days since.  Maddi, his bride, is a lovely and courageous young woman whom we have known and loved for all the years that Jonathan has known and loved her.  There was no way we were NOT going to that wedding!


Armed with a heating pad that plugs into our car lighter space, pillows to brace my knee against the car door, and ibuprofen–and tilting my car seat to the setting suggested by my beautiful and brilliant physical therapist–we headed out.

Jon and Maddi’s wedding was wonderful, but this review only tells the ADA part of the story.  It includes reviews of a motel and restaurant in Castle Rock, WA; a motel, restaurant, and wedding venue in Albany, OR; and three bathrooms in between.  The URLs for all reviewed sites are listed at the end of this review.


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Theo’s Chocolate Factory Tour

3400 Phinney Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98103

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In 2006, Theo Chocolate became the first 100% organic and fair trade—from bean to bar—chocolate factory in North America, and this little brick palace of deliciousness and moral goodness is right here in Seattle.  A tour of the factory only costs $10, and from start to finish, it is a crowd-pleaser for anyone between the ages of 5 and 105.  You will want to get there early to spend some time in the Theo’s shop, sampling all the bars, oogling the beautiful confections, and checking out specialty items before you move to the entrance for the tour.  You can honestly have a full meal of chocolate there among the samples.


Before the tour begins, you will be asked to don hair nets, beard nets, and—if you are wearing open-toed shoes—foot nets.

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Once you’ve entered the tour room, you’ll learn the “bean to bar” story from one of Theo’s amazing tour guides.  I’ve taken this tour three times, and every time, the guide has been funny, charming, knowledgeable, and kind.  Beans are passed around; nibs are shared; more chocolate is imbibed.  Think of this seated part of the tour as dessert after the lunch you just ate in the shop.


The tour moves from this seated area to the small factory, where machines that look as though they came straight out of Willy Wonka are making their magic right before your eyes.  At the end of the tour, as others move up the stairs and into the shop, you will take a door to the sidewalk that takes you back to the shop.  And you will want to go back to that shop to purchase everything you have just tasted.


Although the tour is both a joy and accessible, there are a few challenges in it that you’ll need to be prepared for if you have mobility concerns.  Continue reading Theo’s Chocolate Factory Tour

Blue C Sushi

University Village
4601 26th Ave NE
Seattle, WA 98105

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“Goodness in motion” is the motto of Blue C Sushi, a California and Washington chain of sushi restaurants that feature a conveyer belt of sushi, rolls, spinach, katsu, and other dishes circumnavigating the dining area.  When you see something you want, you pull it off its little stand; add the soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger provided in generous quantities at your seat; and enjoy.  The little traveling stands that hold the dishes include the ingredients in the item and note whether it is cooked or raw.  Gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan items are available.


You can also order off the menu, but that is not nearly as much fun as waiting for the conveyer to bring you new surprises in every circuit.  If you are leaning toward the menu because you’re worried about how long that Spicy California Roll has been cruising the dining room, no worries there.  An RFID chip is embedded in each plate, so the staff can monitor how long any item has been making the rounds and remove it when it’s time has come.

The plates circling the room with their many temptations are color coded to prices, from green plates at $2 each to purple at $5.50.  The story the featured image above tells, with its three red and three yellow plates, is that my sweet pusher and I spent $21.75 on a delightful and accessible late lunch earlier this month, not counting the lemongrass lemonade.


Parking:  The newly-built, south end parking garage has wheelchair parking spaces close to elevators. Though spaces are provided and likely the number of them meets ADA requirements, open handicapped parking spaces are scarce at the U Village, often because people without handicapped permits are either parked in them or lurking in them waiting for friends.  It would be great if U Village security made monitoring permit-less use of these spaces a priority.  Once you’ve found a space in the parking garage, take the elevator to the ground floor and “sidewalk level.”  Turn left and head west down the sidewalk to Blue C, which is on the southwest corner of the U Village.

Entrances:  The entrance is wide, step-free, and easy to get through.  In the summer, the restaurant opens the whole front wall, but in either case, entry is pain-free.

Tables:   There are booths at Blue C, but these are not great for wheelchair diners, who would need to sit at the end and ask others to grab that shrimp tempura roll for them.  However, the countertop that winds around the restaurant is perfect and easy to access.  Wait staff are happy to move chairs for you.  A warning though:  Blue C in the U Village is often packed, which may complicate getting that spot that is perfect for you.  We were there after the lunch crowd had left, and we had no problems finding a space that was roomy and close enough so I could snare a fresh vegetable roll from my chair.


Restrooms:   The restrooms are located at the back of the restaurant down a corridor.  Without crowds, it is easy to get to, but if the place is full, you may have to ask one or two people to tuck in as you pass behind them.   The bathroom is great—a large handicapped stall, good toilet paper placement, and a roll-under sink that works for people at any mobility level.


Photos of interior space online:  Yes, on Google images.  The restaurant’s website includes a gallery but photos are not necessarily of THIS Blue C and they don’t show much of the interior space.

Photos of entrances online:  Yes, on Google images

Reservations taken:  I’m not sure, but whether or not they take reservations, I would call ahead to let them know you are coming in a wheelchair and will need a counter space.  Tell them Spoken Wheel recommended them!

What the wheelchair pusher has to say:  It’s flat, wide enough to navigate around corners.  The wait staff is really helpful.  I’d give it five wheels!  We’ve already been back and will probably be back again.

Photo credits:  Picture of veggie roll, www.bluecsushi.com; picture of restaurant, www.walkscore.com

Pike Place Market

1st Ave and Pike St.
Seattle, WA 98101

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For about 30 years, I loved walking through Pike Place Market.  When we were new to Seattle and trying to keep afloat on a graduate student’s TA-ship and a part-time job, I did most of my Christmas shopping there.  I’d find fanciful earrings for my sisters, glittering fabric fish for my daughters,  hand-carved cheeseboards for my mother, bright t-shirts silk-screened with ravens capturing the sun for my beloved nephews and nieces—treasures that didn’t cost much but that grew from the hands and imaginations of our Northwest craftspeople.


There were other treasures, too—lush bouquets of flowers; the patchwork quilt of greens, tomatoes, eggplants, corn; fresh sockeye for dinner; samples of cherries and smoked almonds; and, of course, those little donuts hot off the conveyer belt near DeLaurenti.

More than 100 years old, the Market is the place we Seattlites show off to visitors from inland universes.  It’s the place we love to meander through on a Saturday morning in October but avoid on a Saturday in July.  It’s a place of magic and industry, a temple to our rich soil and sea and the breathtaking variety of our region.  No longer able to walk through the market, I’m grateful that so much of it is accessible by wheelchair.


That doesn’t mean, though, that all of the Market is accessible.  Any crowded place makes it challenging for wheelchair travelers to see beyond people’s knees and butts.  Even when people thoughtfully make room for you—as they almost always do—and vendors bring their wares to your hands—as they almost always will—there will be places you can’t get to and things you can’t see.


Built in a less-wheelchair friendly time than the present,  some places in and around the market are hard to enter or impossible to navigate.  DiLaurenti, with its Italian delectables packed into tight aisles that are packed tightly with people, is no longer an option.  Le Panier’s entry steps render its deep-flavored tomato feuilletes and sweet vanilla briands off limits for wheelchair travelers travelling alone.  And forget a trip through Sur Le Table unless you can wheel yourself straight up the side of a cliff.  Cobblestone streets and steep curb ramps can also bump up the anxiety levels of a trip to the Market.


In spite of such drawbacks, most of the pleasures of the Market are accessible if you stick to the main Market and its neighbors across the street.  A ride through the Market is still a lovely journey!

Continue reading Pike Place Market

Liam’s Restaurant

University Village
2685 NE 46th Street
Seattle, WA 98105

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One sweet summer afternoon mid-week, my pusher and I found ourselves needing to make a run to the University Village, so we decided to stop at Liam’s Restaurant for a late lunch.   For those of us with mobility challenges, restaurant dining a bit before or after the  most popular hours works well,  because we have more table choices and fewer other diners to navigate around.

Liam’s is owned by Beecher’s Handmade Cheese—the Seattle cheese empire that almost single-handedly gave mac and cheese a respectable seat at the restaurant table, both by its comforting self and in its more dressed-up versions (e.g., with prawns, prosciutto, or kale).  We called ahead, and when we arrived, the hostess gave us our choice of available tables, as well a nice bottle of water and a menu.  We picked the table that was the easiest to wheel to–close to the front of the restaurant and on the perimeter.


At Liam’s the delicious choices include the aforementioned mac and cheese dishes, arancini with a Beecher’s smoked surprise inside, mushroom tarts, sandwiches, and salads, as well as “comfort” foods beyond mac and cheese, such as the amazing chocolate pudding in the featured photo above.  How nice that these dishes are accessible to all of us!


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Tilikum Place Cafe

407 Cedar Street
Seattle, WA 98121

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I can picture us–my beloved pusher and me–in our younger days, visiting Seattle from our little Oregon hometown, strolling near the Seattle Center on an early Saturday morning, and stumbling upon Cedar Street.  I can see us finding the lovely little brick restaurant that is the Tilikum Place Café, with its shiny windows looking out onto the tree-shaded street, and entering into the glow of the beautifully appointed restaurant.


I can picture the delight and surprise we would feel perusing the menu, sipping a gorgeously sculpted latte, and receiving the many kindnesses of the servers there.  What a find this lovely café would have been—the ambiance, the amazing Dutch babies and skillet-served,  pea-vine draped eggs, and the loving service–all of it clear evidence that we were not “in Kansas” anymore.


But that vision of meandering from the Kansas of our little Oregon town into Seattle’s Tilikum Place Cafe is an image of us in my walking years.  Unfortunately in my wheelchair years, this lovely and delicious restaurant presents some barriers.

I want to emphasize that the problems here for those of us with mobility limitations are not because of the staff.  When we called for a reservation, the person answering the phone asked how big my wheelchair was and what kind of seating would be easiest for me—a round table?  a rectangular space?  She was clearly aware of and thoughtful about the challenges restaurants can present.  When we arrived, the hostess saw that our reserved table would require navigation through seating so close together all the diners between us and our table would have had to move, so she quickly seated us at an easier-to-access table, pictured below at the end of the red arrow.


When our trip to the bathroom was blocked by extra chairs,  staff quickly and graciously removed them so we could get through and quietly put them back after we returned.

The staff at the Tilikum Place Cafe clearly care about providing a great dining experience for everyone, including those of us with mobility issues.  But like all businesses in older buildings, theTilikum Place Café is somewhat at the mercy of the space it inherited, and–adding a further challenge–of a menu so good that the tightly-placed tables are always going to be filled to capacity.

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PCC Natural Markets – Greenlake Village

450 N.E. 71st St.
Seattle, WA 98115

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We were excited to try out Puget Consumers’ Co-op (PCC) when we moved to Seattle from our small Oregon town in 1984.  We joined up at the old Ravenna store.  In those days, it cost $60 to become a member for life, paid in tiny monthly increments we could just afford.  Coming from the early days of the First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op in Corvallis, we were shocked that PCC did not require us to bag our own groceries and surprised by the luxuries that awaited us there—packaged cheeses, a delicious deli, chocolates.  But even with these differences, we felt at home at PCC, members of a smaller community instead of bumpkins lost in the Big City.

Time passed and passed.  The Ravenna store became Third Place Books, and our PCC shopping shifted to other stores.  View Ridge on the weekends.  Greenlake en route to our daughter’s place.  Even Edmonds as part of a trip to visit friends.  We purchased almost as many pairs of thick wool socks and beeswax candles as pastured eggs and organic carrots in those stores.


Recently, PCC opened its newest store in the vertically-rising Greenlake Village area, which is about 10 minutes from our house, and we were there to sample the free cake (divine) and check out the layout.  The store is bright and beautiful with its tomato, avocado, and strawberry gems glittering in their bowls and baskets, its shelves of organic condiments and goodies, and, yes, its lovely array of wool socks and beeswax candles.  This new PCC provides excellent access for wheelchair shoppers!
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Safeco Field

1250 1st Ave. S.
Seattle, WA 98134

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In 1995, King County voters handily defeated a ballot measure to knock down the Kingdome and replace it with Safeco Field.  Unlike nearly all of my friends, I voted to build the new stadium, so a year later when the Washington State Legislature decided to build the stadium anyway—a move that many people in the state have neither forgotten nor forgiven–I was secretly happy.

Now, every time I go to a game, I feel like I own the place.  I feel as though I was the one who delivered the little green jewel into the heart of the Puget Sound and the twinkling city lights.  I feel as though I created the haunting sound of the trains heading north in the middle of the 5th inning, as though I single-handedly discovered the wisdom of adding garlic to fries, as though I personally coached the peanut sellers in the stands to pitch their bags of salted nuts to the exact fans who signaled for them.  In short, I feel as though I brought Safeco Field and its wonders into being with my one vote nearly 20 years ago, so I enter the field in my wheelchair as an owner.


I  only get to a few games a year, but, even so, I know some things.  I know that nearly everyone who works at the stadium will tell you to enjoy the game.  I know about families in their matching Mariners caps and their shirts with different names on them.  And I know those names.  I know about the big heart of Jamie Moyer, the utter reliability of Dan Wilson, the base-stealing miracle of James Jones, the pleasure of Edgar stepping up to the plate, Ichiro’s amazing grace in the outfield, the sweet arm of an achingly young Felix, and, of course, everything about Ken Griffey Jr. especially that magical 2009 season.  I know why the fans throw Monopoly money at A-Rod and why we all relaxed when John Olerud took his place at first.


Therefore, when Jay Buhner held the elevator door open for my pusher, our young friend and baseball guide Gabe, and me at the recent Padres game, I felt the reflected glory of The Bone’s presence and gallantry for a week.

Mariners’ games at Safeco Field are things of beauty, and they are accessible to all of us.  The field’s website provides detailed information about services for disabled fans, so check the site out:  http://seattle.mariners.mlb.com/sea/ballpark/information/index.jsp?content=ada_info

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1175 N. 205th Street
Seattle, WA 98133

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It feels good to shop at Costco because you know that the woman checking your groceries and the man serving you hot buttered bread are making an average of $20+ per hour—a living wage—along with receiving health benefits, vacation time, and sick leave.  Thank you Jeffrey Brotman, founder and chairman of Costco and a generous Seattle philanthropist;  Jim Sinegal, founder; and  Craig Jelinek, current CEO, for your vision!

Thank you also for your fine wines, delicious cheeses, big screen TVs, organic produce, diamond bracelets, gigantic jugs of mayonnaise, enormous bags of potato chips, stacks of pants of every size and color, patio furniture, beach towels, pots and pans, and air conditioners.


Thank you, also, for sometimes placing surprising things next to each other in the gigantic aisles—flags and electric toothbrushes, for example—and for the riot of color and texture that is your wonderful store.


Costco is a joyful noise for those of us in battery- or pusher-powered wheelchairs.  For those who push their own wheelchairs, it may also be a delight.  One improvement for us:  lap-sized baskets that we can carry.

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Reviewing ADA wheelchair experiences in Seattle