Rao's is renowned for its jukebox, its quirky decor, its unmatched hospitality and most of all, the spectacular Neapolitan cuisine. It's also notorious for being one of the most difficult restaurants in New York in which to get a reservation. Year-long waits for one of its ten tables are not uncommon. But what is it about this tiny, charming restaurant that makes it the most in-demand spot in the city night after night, year after year?
For decades Rao's existed as a neighborhood restaurant. Its local customers would fill the tables with such regularity that eventually they were given standing reservations - bookings that persevere to this day. The Rao's phenomenon exploded in 1977, when New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton gave Rao's a gushing, half-page, three-star review, splashing the city's best-kept secret in front of millions of readers.
Since Rao's NYC location only has ten tables, and only one seating per evening, the resulting demand would have been overwhelming even if the tables weren't already spoken for. That the tables were "owned" like a condominium translated to almost no empty seats in the house, night after night.
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