Anybody who is an A-list celebrity, including the Mayor of New York City, the President of the United States and actor Woody Allen have dined there. For the rest of us, getting a table at the 120-year-old restaurant, Rao’s in New York, is almost impossible. Baroque Access has a way in
This more than a century old Italian restaurant located in East Harlem is in the ranks of dining institutions like the now-defunct Spanish restaurant El Bulli and the Californian establishment, the French Laundry, both of which are renowned for being sold out on a consistent basis. Rao’s is like that – but worse. There are only about 12 tables in the entire restaurant, which is similar to a private supper club, as reservations are impossible to come by. In fact, regulars keep their reservations for years, and if they aren’t available to dine on the date they’ve booked, they won’t give the table up; they will give it to a deserving friend or family member instead.
So getting a reservation at Rao’s is almost impossible at any time of the year. And as the restaurant is so tiny, even the owners can’t grant friends or family favors and give them a table. In addition, Rao’s has never gone out looking for publicity of any kind. It has been more than 30 years since anybody published a restaurant review, and this has only made the restaurant more sought-after. This mythical eaterie remains on everybody’s Wish List, but few of us ever get the opportunity to savor the Italian delicacies that are prepared in its kitchen.
Apparently, those who have dined at Rao’s say that the experience of eating there is as memorable as the meal. Start off by enjoying a drink at the stand-up bar, served by Nick ‘The Vest” (he has a wardrobe full of hundreds of colorful vests). You won’t find a menu on the table; instead, whoever is serving you will pull up a chair and give you a rundown of the menu, which includes numerous delicious dishes. You can also personalize your dish – as long as you don’t mind it being cooked traditional Italian, you can have any type of protein, and there is a selection of stunning sauces to give with a choice of pastas.
Signature classics that Rao’s is famous for include its legendary meatballs, a fabulous lemon chicken, a simple, delectable salad of roasted red peppers, pine nuts and raisings, and a sumptuous seafood salad. The restaurant is only open for dinner Monday to Friday – never at lunchtime, never on a weekend. And did we mention they insist on cash?
Located on the corner of East 114th Street and Pleasant Avenue, the restaurant, nicknamed ‘The Joint’ by the locals, first opened as a saloon in this Italian neighborhood in 1896. It’s still located in the original one room first inhabited in the late 19th Century, although it was remodeled a bit in 1995 after a fire. The paneled walls are decorated with Christmas lights all year round and photos of legends such as Frank Sinatra. You’ll find a bar at one end of the room, a jukebox against the wall, and tables that seat a maximum of 60 patrons. Pellegrino Senior and his aunt Anna Pellegrino ran the place (her husband Vincent originally owned the restaurant) until she died in 1994. Pellegrino Senior than took Vincent’s nephew, Ron Straci as a partner. Straci, who is now 81, dines at one of the tables every night.
Those lucky enough to have been awarded a table come on their designated evenings at a time of their choosing, and the table is theirs for the night. These A-listers include Jay Z, Hillary Clinton, President Donald Trump, Keith Richards, Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Gloria Estefan, Jimmy Fallon and Rod Stewart.