Rao’s Restaurant | New York Magazine | The Thousand Best

This legendary East Harlem wiseguy joint isn’t really a restaurant in the normal sense of the word (it’s a hyperexclusive dinner club), and yes, it’s possible to taste the famous house ragù in Vegas these days, or even in the comfort of your own home. But if by some miracle your brother-in-law knows a guy, who knows a guy, who knows another guy, and if that other guy offers you a seat at his monthly table (which he got from another guy) at, say, 9:30 on a Wednesday evening, you’d be a fool not to take it. Despite what you may have heard, the classic red-sauce fare isn’t half-bad (persuade your host to order another platter of those softball-size meatballs), and you’re bound to see a bold-faced name or two come bursting in through the door. But the real pleasure is of this New York institution is the setting — the gentle lighting; the snug, linen-covered tables; the vintage Rat Pack photos tacked crookedly to the wall — which exudes a kind of classic, old-world intimacy that’s disappeared from the increasingly curated restaurant scene downtown.