Rao's, the legendary 117-year-old East Harlem restaurant that is widely believed to be the hardest place in America to secure a reservation, opens in Hollywood today. This is the restaurant's third location -- a Rao's opened at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 2006.
The original Rao's is known for many things, its Southern Italian food probably coming in about third on the list. A table at Rao's has long been a status symbol, and something that is only offered to the famous and powerful, and for a price. A Grub Street story a few years back about the toughest reservations in America said "A table for four at 8 p.m. every Tuesday, say, will cost you between $1,000 and $25,000 annually, depending on who you are -- and that's just for the table, not including food."
This, of course, guarantees a lot of good people watching, and the celebrity clientele is also legendary. The place caters to a rotating cast of movie stars, politicians and mobsters. Co-owner Frank Pellegrino (who has the nickname "Frankie No" for his usual answer when asked for a table) is quite the movie star himself, having appeared in many movies and TV shows over the years including Goodfellas and the Sopranos.
The new, Hollywood outpost of Rao's is somewhat removed from the action of the strip, in the old Hollywood Canteen location. Like the New York restaurant, it will be open Mon.-Fri. for dinner only. The chef is Nicole Grimes, who has been working at the Las Vegas location.
The question, of course, is whether the magic of the East Harlem Rao's can possibly translate to the West Coast. Many businesses that have thrived in New York haven't worked in L.A., like Maury Rubin's City Bakery and the recently-closed BLT Steak in West Hollywood. The cliche would be that a restaurant that thrives on the status-driven task of simply getting a table would do fantastically in vapid, ego-driven Hollywood. But as we who actually live here know, the cliches are often, well, cliches.
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Although maybe Rao's will do just fine. Multiple attempts to call the restaurant were met with a busy signal. Meaning one of three things: 1. The line is jammed with people trying to get reservations. 2. The restaurant is leaving the phone off the hook in order to create the appearance that the line is jammed. 3. The phone number doesn't work. You can try for yourself and form your own opinions by calling (323) 962-7267.
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