People want what they can’t have. For years, that meant a reservation at Rao’s in Harlem where the tables aren’t just reserved, they’re owned. Exclusivity is a big thing in New York and with only ten tables, each with a standing reservation, saying that you’ve eaten at Rao’s is a marinara-stained badge of honor. Now the 116-year-old Rao’s is taking their old-school Italian comfort food to LA where they’ll set up shop in a space that housed the former Hollywood Canteen (though not the original) and I have to ask: what the hell are they doing?
The LA location isn’t the first Rao’s to open outside of New York. A Caesar’s Palace outpost opened in Vegas in December 2006. It’s a much easier reservation to get – so much so that as of noon today, you could still get a table for two at 8pm for this coming Saturday (that’s right, folks, I did my homework). There goes your exclusivity. Will they try to play hard-to-get when they come to LA? Yes. The LA crowd likes a difficult rez just as much as New Yorkers do and Rao’s has chosen a location that seems to be designed for hiding in plain sight.
If you’re at all familiar with the area around Seward St. just south of Santa Monica Blvd., you know that there’s not much there. It’s basically a side street. The only other restaurant nearby is Grub from former Top Chef competitor Betty Fraser and that spot hasn’t been hot…ever. Hollywood Center Studios is across the street, but that’s where they shoot most Disney Channel shows — so it’s not like it’s a major hub of celebrity or anything. I’m trying to wrap my head around why Rao’s would choose such a desolate spot for their new location.
As I wrote over the summer, LA is going through an Italian Renaissance of sorts in Downtown LA. That makes this move even more surprising. A Rao’s Downtown would make perfect sense. There’s a thriving dining scene and the grittiness of the neighborhood would match their East Harlem roots. A Rao’s on the southern edge of Hollywood, though, is a strange choice. Hopefully they’re the first of a wave of excellent New York restaurants looking to plant their flag in Los Angeles. It could be the restaurant form of Manifest Destiny, albeit much more delicious and much less racist.
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