Our Story

  • 1986

    Charles Rao founder of Rao’s Restaurant

    Charles Rao bought a small saloon from the George Ehret Brewery at the corner of 114th Street and Pleasant Avenue in upper Manhattan. It was 1896. He called the place Rao’s. Little did anyone know this was the birth of what would become a legendary culinary and cultural destination.

  • 1913

    Joseph Guiseppe Rao, Charles Rao’s brother

    Joseph Guiseppe Rao, Charles Rao’s brother, takes over the operations.


  • 1933

    Louis Rao & Vincent Rao

    Upon the passing of Charles Rao, the sons of Charles, Louis and Vincent Rao continued to operate the restaurant. Louis handled the bar while Vincent did the cooking. That’s how Vincent became well known for his famous Lemon Chicken.

  • 1959

    Vincent & Anna Pellegrino Rao

    After the passing of Louis, Ann Rao and Vincent Rao operated the restaurant. The Rao’s of today’s fame is credited to Vincent and Anna Rao, who turned the local saloon into a restaurant where customers returned to time and time again, particularly for grilled steaks and chops.


  • 1977

    Mimi Sheraton Article

    The New York Times restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton wrote a glowing three star review. This marked the Rao’s unique concept of “table rights,” granted to patrons who have frequented the restaurant over generations. As a result, the Harlem location is believed to be not only the hardest reservation in New York, but perhaps the world.

  • 1991

    Ron Straci & Frank Pellegrino Sr.

    Ron, Vincent’s nephew and Frank, Ann’s nephew became co-owners of Rao’s Restaurant. Frank Sr passed away in 2017 and Frank Pellegrino, Jr. became co-owner of Rao’s with Ron Straci.


Rao’s of Today

For almost 130 years, Rao’s has remained a family-run business, celebrated as one of the oldest in the country. Its unique atmosphere, anchored by its charismatic hosts, holds a mystique that is transcendent — from its storied juke box to Christmas décor to impromptu performances and a guest list that includes everyone from locals to doctors and lawyers to politicians, celebrities, and sports icons.

Yet Rao’s is so much more than just a restaurant steeped in history. It’s an institution continuing to create a legendary experience that brings back memories of family traditions. At Rao’s the simple, delicious homemade food feeds the body and soul. It’s where authentic Southern Italian cooking people have loved for over a century makes every night feel like Sunday dinner.

Rao’s legacy continues to grow as it brings the tradition of Rao’s passion for food to the heart of South Beach at Loews Miami Beach Hotel in the historic St. Moritz Tower, joining Rao’s Los Angeles and the original location in East Harlem.

Rao’s has been covered by Travel + Leisure, USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, SAVEUR, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times; and featured on programs such as Good Morning America, TODAY, Fox & Friends, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Top Chef All-Stars and The Best Thing I Ever Ate; and have written four critically acclaimed cookbooks Recipes from the Neighborhood, Over 100 Years of Italian Home Cooking, Rao’s on the Grill, and Rao’s Classics.

Meet our family

Frank Pellegrino Jr.

Being a restaurateur, let alone a successful one, has never been easy, even when you’ve got a legendary restaurant such as Rao’s in New York in your arsenal. Frank Pellegrino, Jr., co-owner of the original Rao’s in Harlem, Rao’s at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and Rao’s in Hollywood, however knows that a successful restaurant is made by making guests feel like they’re part of the family.

“Frankie” as he is known to Rao’s regulars, grew up helping his father and family at the restaurant – waiting tables, cooking, managing the restaurant – basically learning the family business, even though his father, Frank Sr. attempted to talk him out of it.

The fourth generation owner of Rao’s, Pellegrino attended Connecticut State University on a wrestling scholarship; where he studied graphic design and eventually went on to open his own advertising agency in New York. The restaurant business never left his blood, as he continued to work at the restaurant nights. Frank, however, knew that this was his legacy and where he belonged, ultimately returning to work at Rao’s full-time.

In 2000 he opened Baldoria in New York’s tony Theater District, a 200 seat restaurant that managed to still carry off the intimate ambience, and stellar Italian cuisine of Rao’s, except at Baldoria, people eventually would be able to get a reservation. Pellegrino then decided to bring his talents to Las Vegas to open the second outpost of Rao’s, and eventually Los Angeles to open the third.

Pellegrino moved to out west to open Rao’s at Caesars Palace in 2006 and Rao’s in Hollywood in 2013, and has since brought the same Southern Italian fare and sense of family and camaraderie that one used to only be able to get if they had their standing reservation at the original Rao’s. He can be found not only greeting guests, but floating from table to table, ensuring that the Las Vegas and Hollywood experience is the same warm, familiar and inviting one they’d feel in New York.

In 2012, Pellegrino released Rao’s On the Grill (St. Martin’s Press), which is full of signature Rao’s dishes and new creations from “Uncle Vincent’s Lemon Chicken,” to pastas, salads and even desserts, this book is a must-have for anyone with a passion for cooking or dining al fresco.

Ron Straci

Ron served as an informal waiter at Rao’s during the Feast in 1947. Ron remembers his grandmother, “Mama Jake” sending meatballs down to the restaurant for customers. Many of the customers were shady characters, especially during prohibition. Some of the very first celebrities to discover Rao’s were Keenan Wynn, Frank Gifford, Gloria DeHaven, and Richard Burton. They were in Rao’s every time they were in town. Rao’s was the most famous restaurant in the neighborhood! Doctors, lawyers, ballplayers, entertainers, and even scalawags were always in attendance.

Louis reminded Ron of Clifton Webb. Sartorial splendor was a term that seemed to have been invented for him. Vincent was more casual but nonetheless a polished dresser. Ron also remembers the dogs, usually large and black, always secondhand. Strays found a home at Rao’s as well.

Ron Straci is one of the founders and co-owners of Rao’s Specialty Foods, Inc. A graduate of Fordham College & Law School. First and foremost, counsel for Ann and Vincent.

Rao’s Specialty Foods, Inc. was started in 1992 to bring to the consumers’ home the signature marinara sauce of the legendary Rao’s Restaurant. Ron requested the help of his wife, Sharon Straci to grow the Specialty Food Business. Under Sharon’s supervision the company grew as well as the brand. She grew the Rao’s Specialty Foods brand for almost twenty years. During those twenty years she acquired the title name of, “The Woman Behind The Sauce” from her employees”. Sharon expanded the product line into a variety of sauces and imported products such as pastas, olive oils, vinegars, dressings and condiments – with both domestic and international distribution to traditional gourmet stores and supermarkets.

Ron stated, “ Rao’s has been many things to me. Only the passage of time has made me an owner, and if I could I would turn the clock back and watch my uncle Lou change the water in the cylinders on either side of the cash register that held goldfish, or ask my uncle to show me his new car, I’d love to run through those years again. I enjoyed our time together and savor the memories”.

Ron is presently operating Rao’s restaurants with his co-owner, Frank Pellegrino, Jr.