The Five Toughest Reservations in America

By grace.g.yang ยท August 27, 2009
Under: California,Celebrity Sightings,Chicago,Desserts,Dinner,Grace's Picks,Harlem,Italian,Midtown West,My Life,Prix-fixe,West Village

A while back, Grubstreet wrote an article titled, The Five Toughest Reservations in America. I was intrigued by the article and very surprised to learn that I’ve visited some of them! The article has some guidelines before naming the toughest reservations in the US (for instance, no seasonal restaurants and no restaurants that accept walk-ins). So, what made the list?

1. Rao’s, East Harlem, New York


The tables are impossible to get, unless you know someone that has a “standing reservation” and the reservations are passed down from family member to family member, so good luck getting one of them. The best way to get into Rao’s is through a charity auction (they give various tables away every year) or if you know someone that knows someone that knows someone that might have a table. I fell into the latter category (I knew Sara who had a connection through her family). Would I go back? Well, if it wasn’t a hassle to get a reservation AND I could order the seafood salad. And ONLY the seafood salad.

2. Momofuku Ko, East Village, New York


This table was actually difficult for me to get. It’s through an online reservation system and various friends suggested that I get my brother to write a script to hack into the system to get a table. I thought this would be too much work, so I just did it the old fashioned way; I signed on everyday at 9:59am and refreshed until eventually I got a 2-spot. The food was buttery, fat, delicious, and made me sick for a week. I took Audrey along and we both enjoyed our food, but I don’t think my body was ready for the amount of butter they used in their cooking. They also don’t allow photographs of the food (David Cheng says it’s just food – eat it) so the only picture I have is from the bathroom. Would I go again? No, definitely not.

3. Tabula’s Table, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
I haven’t been the Tabula’s Table, and I don’t plan on going anytime soon because I don’t have a car to drive to Pennsylvania and I don’t have anyone to go with!

4. The French Laundry, Yountville, California

IMG_0283 (Small)

One of my favorite dining experiences; Chris made the reservation for our birthday (we were born two years and a day apart). It was our first super expensive meal (over $500 for the two of us) and it was really special not only because it was our birthday, but it was my time actually flying anywhere to eat at a restaurant where we had to make the reservation in advance. The best way to make a reservation is through opentable (I think) – Chris was able to make the reservation by logging into opentable around 11AM 60 days away from our dining date. Would I go back? In a heartbeat.

5. Schwa, Chicago
I’ve never been to the restaurant but I’ve read about it and it’s definitely on my list of places to try. I just have to find an excuse to get me out to Chicago!

Honorable Mentions:

Minibar, Washington, D.C.
Haven’t been but I haven’t been to D.C. since college. Maybe I can go and visit my cousin!

Waverly Inn, West Village, New York
I went two years ago; it was easy to walk in and get a reservation because Chris lived in the neighborhood. We sat next to Bon Jovi, saw Bill Cosby and Julianne Moore, and munched on amazing biscuits (I actually made the biscuits for Thanksgiving last year and they were a big hit!) Would I go back? Yes; I had to send my burger back because it was cooked and seasoned REALLY unevenly, but I’d go back just for the truffled macaroni and cheese.

Alinea, Chicago
Oh Alinea. I REALLY wanted to visit you in September. I was actually going to be IN Chicago on September 10th for my friend’s wedding! But, it wasn’t meant to be; my friend cancelled her wedding and I never had the opportunity to purchase a flight to the windy city or to even THINK about who I’d invite to a dinner at Alinea. Someday, Grant Achatz. Someday.

Per Se, New York
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I dined behind the blue doors last August with 5 other friends (David, Chris, Ariel, Kate, and Joe). Joe paid for my dinner because he’s an awesome friend and it was an amazing treat. The food was great, the company was even better, and I’ve returned many times since my original dinner (not for the tasting; per se now has a salon menu so you can order a la carte). Would I go back for another tasting? YES! The reservation system at per se isn’t too bad; similar to opentable, per se opens up a couple of tables every day (manually).

So readers, where have you been on the NYMag list? Any restaurants that were overlooked?

Reader Comments

The ‘minibar’ is actually a 6-person private room in Cafe Atlantico. I’ve never planned a meal a month ahead, so I haven’t been to minibar, but Cafe Atlantico is a terrific restaurant in its own right. In fact, you can get a bargain, easy-to-schedule sample of the minibar’s avant garde style by ordering the Chef’s Dim Sum Tasting during Sunday’s brunch. Just make sure you bring a friend with an adventurous, not-too-hungry stomach. My last date to brunch at C.A. was not a fan of the Foie Gras puree shooter – probably because it looked like chocolate.

Written By Neil on August 27th, 2009 @ 8:10 am

Ooohh, I’d go to Alinea! Twenty-five courses for the win!

Interestingly, I wonder what it takes to get into Rao’s in Vegas…

Written By Cliff on August 27th, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

@Neil – the foie gras puree shooter sounds interesting for a dim sum tasting – now I’m very intrigued.

@cliff – I think it’s easier to get into Rao’s in Las Vegas – you might even be able to sit at the bar for your meal. I think if you stayed in Caesar’s Palace (where the restaurant is located), you could probably ask the concierge for a reservation. However, if I were in Vegas, I would probably dine at some of the other amazing restaurants before heading to Rao’s ๐Ÿ™‚

Written By Grace on August 28th, 2009 @ 6:42 am

“and the reservations are passed down from family member to family member”

That sounds friggin ridiculous as if reservations could be passed down like a legacy…or an inheritance.

Written By John on August 28th, 2009 @ 11:11 am

John – it does seem pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it?! When the waiter explained the reservation system to us, I almost thought he was kidding around…but we asked him if he was serious and he looked at us like WE were crazy for not knowing the rules!

Written By Grace on August 28th, 2009 @ 11:36 am

We’re curious to know that if, after awhile, these super-exclusive restaurants get old. For instance, will Rao’s in East Harlem always be reservation/guest list only for dinner? The restaurant culture in New York City is so fascinating, it’s almost like a secret society!

Written By Vantage Properties on July 25th, 2011 @ 11:27 am

@Vantage Properties – It’s possible that the super-exclusive restaurants will get old (eventually) but for now, it seems like Rao’s has no problems filling their tables. In LV, Rao’s is more accessible…but that means you’d have to fly to LV to actually enjoy their food.

There are a bunch of restaurants that make dining seem like a secret society – Grant Achatz’s “Next” is a great example!

Written By grace.g.yang on July 25th, 2011 @ 12:41 pm


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