Claiming a restaurant to be the Favorite in the World is a big leap! What I have found is that a restaurant experience is much more than just the food – it’s also about time, place, people and experience. While the food at Rao’s is absolutely fabulous, yes, I’ve eaten in restaurants that were as good or better yet this is the experience that Lori and I go back to as our favorite. I would love to hear about your memories and experiences with food and restaurants either at home or while traveling….
Fast forward a few years and I was working for an IT Equipment company in a Product Management role. I was traveling extensively and some of my destinations were the industry trade shows. Several of these trade shows occurred in New York City and Lori decided to come along with me. When we had dinner at Rao’s, Frank and Ron told us to be sure and stop by if we were in the city. We were always welcome to have a drink at the bar without a reservation. On one of our trips, we did exactly that and went to visit. We had the opportunity to say hello again. Frank had released his second cookbook, so we bought a copy and had it signed. We had an enjoyable time even though we didn’t get to eat anything…..oh well…..
In 2006, Rao’s finally expanded, opening a second location at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. A number of the trade shows we attended were held in Las Vegas and as soon as I knew the restaurant was open, I made a reservation for my next trip out and took along some of the trade show staff for dinner. To really experience the food at Rao’s, you really need at least 6 people, but 8 is ideal. The portions are rather large and it is very common to eat family style here. I would end up ordering some appetizers, pastas and entrees for the table. Everyone always got some meatballs and penne with vodka sauce – two of the signature dishes there. Add in the Lemon Chicken, Veal Parmesan and a couple of others and we were in for a feast. We always left the restaurant very satisfied. Whenever I attended a Vegas trade show with the team, the Rao’s dinner on our last night became a bit of a “tradition.” I ALWAYS caught an earful from Lori about going to Rao’s without her…..
I left that position in 2009 and while I traveled to Vegas on business a time or two, the schedule just didn’t allow a visit to Rao’s (plus I was generally on my own….).
Earlier this year, Lori was trying to decide where we were going to go to celebrate our 24th Wedding Anniversary she had me looking up places like Costa Rica and other Caribbean locations (too much HGTV Househunters International….). I don’t remember how the conversation occurred, but we were talking about restaurants and ones we had visited. A couple of days later, I was informed that we were going to Las Vegas and dinner at Rao’s was a requirement. While I don’t like the casinos or glitz of Las Vegas, I love the food choices and the explosion of great restaurants over the last decade (and I don’t mean the $2.99 prime rib buffet at Circus Circus). Sounded like a great idea to me and one of the first calls was to secure the reservation at Rao’s.
Now the Las Vegas Rao’s is MUCH larger than the New York location. In fact, when you walk in the restaurant there are two room left and right of the center bar that are replicas of the New York dining room. We were seated in one of the booths across from the one we had in New York. It had been way too long and I started to order like we had 8 people. The waitress talked me down off that ledge, but we still had more than we could eat. We ended up with meatballs and penne with vodka sauce along with veal milanese. Lori finished up with an order of Tiramisu (I don’t like coffee, so I’m not a fan, but it is Lori’s favorite dessert). I don’t like staying in the big Casino Hotels, so we were in a smaller place in a suite with a refrigerator and microwave. The leftovers ended up making a great lunch the next day. (As you can see from the picture, the veal milanese is about the size of a hubcap.)
I can certainly say that much of what “happened in Vegas” did not stay in Vegas and came home with me. I gained about 5 pounds in our 4 day eating vacation. (I’ll write about some of the other experiences in future posts.) Also, I can say that I left a lot of money on the tables in Vegas, but it is the restaurant tables, not the Casino tables. (The top end places are not cheap!)
If you find yourself in Vegas, especially with a group, be sure to add Rao’s to the plan. If you plan ahead a little bit, you can get a reservation – not like the months or years for New York!
Note: In 2013, Rao’s opened a third location in Hollywood, CA. I haven’t been there yet, but will try to get there when I have to go to LA sometime. I would bet it will be just as good as the other locations.
Lori in our booth at Rao’s Las Vegas – identical room to the New York dining room.
Penne Pasta with Vodka Sauce – one of my favorite pasta dishes at Rao’s
Lori’s Tiramisu (She said it was great – since I don’t like coffee, not my favorite dessert)