Rao’s Bar & Grill, an East Harlem, Southern Italian institution founded in 1895 is reportedly opening a branch in Hollywood. Known as one of the toughest-to-land New York reservations, the 10 table, weeknight-only, one seating per evening, Neapolitan eatery has earned an enthralling yet infamous aura as a hangout for red-sauce seeking celebrities and dapper, pinkie-ringed mobsters.
Fostering Rao’s underworld appeal is the fact that co-owner Frank Pellegrino, nicknamed ‘Frankie No’ because of his merciless execution of reservation inquiries, is an actor who’s appeared in the films GoodFellas, Carlito’s Way, and been a regular on The Sopranos and New York Undercover.
Rao’s (pronounced RAY-ohz), has seen its share of drama; in ’96 the entire restaurant was gutted by fire, and fire marshals determined the blaze was “deliberately set with flammable liquid.”
Several years ago, shortly after midnight, someone deposited a suitcase on the restaurant’s front steps… inside the case were the remains of a young woman.
Customers who do succeed in landing one of the 40 dinner seats never get a chance to consult a menu: Pellegrino, or his son Frank Jr. will sit you down and describe what’s good…the baked clams, the freshly made melt-in-your-mouth meatballs (the size of baseballs), the tender stuffed veal chops, or maybe Rao’s famous lemon chicken.
By 11pm Frank Sr. has cranked up the jukebox and half the patrons haved joined in as he croons Dean Martin standards.
While countless red-sauce Italian restaurants offering comparable dishes pervade the NY boroughs, Rao’s is really not about the food, it’s more about the experience.
First reported by EATER, Rao’s will move into the property once occupied by the Hollywood Canteen, at 1006 Seward Street. This will actually be their second expansion effort – after the opening of Rao’s Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, which predictably has a distinctly different vibe from it’s East Harlem sister.