Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >
Dec 2, 2007 04:47 AM

Rao's: Have you eaten there lately??

is this place super special or just overrated. how hard is it to get a reservation??

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. This probably won't be of much help but based on my Mom's review from about 1976 it's good enough but more of an experience than a great meal. I do know that the sons have taken it over and have marketed the name quite a bit so there's bound to be a change reflected at the restaurant. I've never had a chance to go but I have a family friend who has a table every thursday for the past XXXX number of years. That's the kind of place it is I suppose.

    Sorry, no info on the food just a story. I've always wanted to go anyway. And their marinara sauce is my favorite, however you can find the EXACT same sauce in a Victorio's jar, same company that sellers peppers onion, olives etc, gold label. It's a few bucks cheaper and with rao's sauce being $10 a jar it's a good way to go. Regardless I have a jar of rao's in my fridge as I cant find Victorio's anymore.

    1. Rao's essentially operates as a private club, i.e., you need to be invited by someone who is a regular there. From what I gather, the food is nothing special. Frankly, it holds zero fascination for me.

      1. I never realized how infamous this restaurant was. About 10 years ago, while I was in the city, I drove up to Harlem and decided to pop in and make a reservation. At the time, I did not know who this man was (Frank Pellegrino~the owner) and I went into the place (it was an afternoon, so they were closed.) and spoke to Frank Pellegrino. He laughed when I said I wanted to make a reservation for the upcoming Sat. night.

        He told me maybe in 2 years or so. I just thought to myself..o.k. we are in Harlem and there is absolutely NOTHING special about the place (just a lot of the color red..everywhere.)..why won't he give me a reservation??? He told me he has had the same customers for X amount of years and they have been coming back to him so this is why he has no reservations.

        I left the restaurant and a few weeks later, I bought the Rao's cookbook, and it just made me laugh when I read the whole story. Honestly, I think the recipes are way too bland, and I could care less now that I never eat there.

        If you want to try some of his recipes, his son owns Baldoria on 49th. It is pretty good. They have live jazz usually on the weekend, upstairs. Here is the link:

        Hope this helps you out!!

        1. I think many people struggle to get in there to say they've been. I went once when a friend bought a dinner there at a charity auction. The food is good..nothing earth moving...but good. Most entertaining was Frank Pellegrino and a former Wall Street CEO singing "Under the Boardwalk" with the entire restaurant joining in.

          Then again, how many of these places actually live up to the hype if you get the chance to go? A thread that's been done I'm sure!

          5 Replies
          1. re: harrison

            One thing you can do is walk in and get a drink at the bar. They will serve you a stiff martini. Then, as the place is small, you can look at people eating the food you won't be eating, and realise there's no need to lose sleep over it.

            It's a very friendly place, in my experience, but no - you can't eat (and you can't eat at the bar either).

            1. re: Wilfrid

              I've done this years ago and it's definitely worth doing. There's a strong and pleasant "buzz"; people are excited to be there, it's the same excitement you'd find back in the day when you succeeded in getting in to the hot nightspot of the week, past the velvet rope. It's a well-dressed crowd too (Brooks Bros, not Brooklyn)

              1. re: Brian S

                I did it about 2 years ago. I thought the lemon chicken, meatballs and cheesecake were all great. I had a great time as everyone seemed to know each other, etc. and is very unlike any other restaurant I have been to in that way. It almost seemed like christmas (in a ny italian kind of way) was every day there.

                That all being said, I think the fact that the Las Vegas location exists substantially dilutes the brand itself. So, I don't have much of a desire of going back...

              2. re: Wilfrid

                So if I go in on a random Tuesday, I won't have a problem sitting at the bar? I've never been but understand it is quite small. I'd prefer not to go up there in a suit just to be told that there's no room at the bar.

                1. re: Taylor.Watson

                  give it a shot, nothing ventured nothing gained....the deal with Rao's, as with many consumer goods and services is a simple concept called branding...lots of people get bent out of shape on the concepts of branding

            2. buy the cookbook, make the meatballs (the water makes them the best); buy a bottle of his marinara sauce in the store and make some pasta; then make the lemon chicken; build a fire in the fireplace; cuddle with your sweetie.

              This is jfood home-grown answer to never seeing the inside of Rao's.

              And jfood thinks its waaaaay better.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jfood

                First, I want to say something here that no one else is saying. Rao's is not "Italian" as much as it is "Italian-American". This is ok with me--because this is what I prefer, since this is the type of food that I grew up on. I've travelled to Italy and the food is different, but very, very good.

                I've never been to Rao's, because I think it would ruin it for me. It has to be overrated--because I think the food would be ok, but it's more for the experience, as many have stated here. A month ago, I went to Baldoria for dessert--and I was not impressed. I'm rarely impressed with Italian restaurants, since this is what I specialize in making at home.

                I'm a big fan of the cookbook. It is literally falling apart, because I use it so much. As with anything that I cook, I make the recipes my own--so it's not that I follow the recipes by the letter, but more as a guideline. In my very picky Italian-American family, I am now famous for my Rao's versions of lemon chicken, shrimp scampi, tiramisu, sole, and many, many others. I use the jarred marinara sauce when I'm absolutely desperate for pasta--and too lazy to make my own.