I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve just eaten a meal at Rao’s. Sure, there’s a Rao’s in Vegas, where it’s easy to score a reservation. And anybody can pick up their pasta sauce at pretty much any grocery store (which I recommend). But nobody who’s done either of those things can really claim to have tasted Rao’s. I was not lucky enough to be born into a family with a table nor am I wealthy enough to purchase a meal that one of the table owners gives away at a charity auction. I don’t run in those circles.
We’re living in crazy times so it was time for Rao’s to do something crazy. And I got to reap the saucy benefits. Basically, they opened up their restaurant to anyone for pickup – and even created an Instagram account with a single post for the occasion. If you’re interested, you DM them on Insta with your phone number to get placed on the waitlist. When you get off the waitlist, they’ll text you that it’s your lucky day and you respond with your name and pickup window, which occur every 30 minutes between 3pm and 7pm. Then simply show up to get your meal for two, which includes salad, lemon chicken, penne marinara, parmesan, and two large meatballs. The cost is $80 (includes tax and a 15% tip) and, like the restaurant, is cash only.
I’m sure you’re wondering how it tasted. Was it as incredible as I’d built up in my mind and does it merit such an exclusive following? Well, it was pretty dang great. The chicken was definitely lemony but not at all overwhelming in flavor and super juicy. The meatballs were ground fine and definitely seemed to include a good amount of breading because they were also far from dry. I could have used some bread, but otherwise it was a really good meal – beggars can’t be choosers. There’s tons of great Italian in this city so I’m not saying that this is better than those, but it could certainly join the ranks of the best red sauce joints in NYC. I would have been happy just to cross this off the bucket list, but I was extra happy it tasted so good. I can only imagine what a full sit-down meal would be like in the restaurant!
Look, I recognize this was the best and only thing they could do to save their business. When other businesses switch to serving all their clients as takeout only, that still means they’re serving…everybody. If Rao’s serves all their clients as takeout only, that’s not a lot of people. And takes away all the money they probably typically make on alcohol. The Rao’s regulars are old school and mostly don’t live in the neighborhood. As much as I want to say meatballs are essential, it’s not wise to risk your health on the subway or in a car service to get yourself to the restaurant. Opening things up allows them to hopefully keep the restaurant alive. They’ve been going strong for 124 years – why stop now?!