shows you how to score a spot at the most selective restaurant in town...

Part of the great thing about being in New York City is the air of exclusivity that surrounds the nightlife: Velvet ropes only letting beautiful people into clubs, using your connections to get box seats at the Knicks playoff game, hobnobbing with celebrities at the opening of bizarre art exhibits, and anything else that will make your enemies (and even better, your friends) turn green with envy at your ability to gain admittance to the trendiest of spots.

But there is one New York restaurant that's almost impossible to get into: Rao's. This famed Italian eatery only has about eight tables, and you can't get a seat at one of them unless you are "invited" by one of the table's "owners." And don't think that calling up for a reservation years in advance will help; according to insider Michael Ciravolo, "You got a better chance of getting hit in the ass by lightning" than ever getting a seat, even by phone. Sounds a bit shady, huh? That's part of the charm! Want to complain about the process being unfair? Fuggedaboudit.

Lucky for you, we tracked down a few Rao's insiders and grilled them about ways to get in. But before we divulge those secrets, we wanted to present you with a brief explanation of what Rao's is and why it's so popular - mainly because we want to make sure that you don't do anything stupid like show up on a Saturday or wear a J. Crew sweater (the ultimate crime!). So please read this background info and don't make a fool of yourself-or if you do, please don't mention this article. We like our kneecaps just the way they are, thank you very much.


  • How do I dress? As nice as humanly possible; your Gap khakis will not impress Frankie Pellegrino too much. In other words, don't just wear a suit, wear your nicest suit. Or if your gender so dictates, don't just wear a dress, wear your nicest dress. Oh, and remember to wear something with pockets, because you have to pay in cash.

  • When can I go? Strangely enough, Rao's is closed on weekends, so you'll have to go Monday through Friday.

  • How do I get there? The restaurant is located in East Harlem, at 455 E. 114th Street (off Pleasant Avenue). We'll be frank: this restaurant is not in a great neighborhood. The restaurant itself and the block on which it's located is safe (thanks, in part, to the massive bodyguards surrounding the restaurant), but venture a couple blocks in any direction, and you're on your own. So if you're gonna drive there, then try to park as close to the restaurant as humanly possible. We suggest you take a taxi.

  • Who will I see there? Considering that there are only eight or so tables, Rao's features an amazing list of celebrities who have dined there, including Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Madonna, Ron Howard, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, and Donald Trump. The restaurant is also frequented by others who are famous (and sometimes, infamous), including CEOs of major companies (e.g., Ferrari, Ford, American Express) and, shall we say, Italian-American gentlemen with "pull" (e.g., Joe Bonnano). Needless to say, it's an impressive and powerful crowd.

  • What can I expect when I get there? When you arrive, you'll notice that the restaurant (which is located a bit below street level) resembles a home living room, with a family-ish décor and kitschy pictures. There's a jukebox in the corner that is famous for some reason, and there's a small six-person bar toward the front, where barkeep Nickey Vest will get you what you need. For those of you looking for a bit of trivia, they call him Nickey Vest because he has a collection of hundreds of vests. Original, eh?
By the way, we asked around and the food is great…especially the pasta sauce. That's their specialty.