He went behind the scenes at the famously exclusive NYC restaurant.

By Caitlin Petreycik
Updated March 26, 2019
Credit: NBC/Getty Images

Since 1977, when the New York Times awarded it three stars, Rao’s—with its four tables and six booths—has been one of the toughest restaurant reservations in the city. That’s because, as Jimmy Fallon recently found out when he visited as part of a Tonight Show segment, the place abides by “squatters’ rights.” “When the restaurant started to gain a lot of notoriety back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, my father refused to displace anybody who was already coming here, and that was really the beginning of table rights,” co-owner Frank Pellegrino Jr. told Fallon. “So if you were here before, we never want to let you go.”

While Rao’s reputation is based on its near-impenetrability first, the Harlem dining spot is also known for its meatballs, which is why Fallon heads to the kitchen to see how they’re made. According to Pellegrino, the recipe calls for a pound of beef, half a pound of pork, and half a pound of veal, along with a generous sprinkling of pepper. The co-owner takes an aggressive approach to prepping the meat, at one point telling Fallon, who decides to help out, “come on, you’ve got to get your hands a little dirty.”

If there’s a “trick” to making the famous dish, it’s dusting the meat mix with grated Parmesan cheese, a move Pellegrino calls “making it snow.” The (really, really oversized) meatballs are then fried in oil until they’re golden brown, before being added to the sauce, where they cook for another half an hour. When Fallon serves them to his Tonight Show crew, Questlove, Black Thought, and Steve Higgins, they all seem impressed.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to know how to make Rao’s signature meatballs, check out the full clip above. And if you’ve ever wanted to know which celebrities have been thrown out of Rao’s, well, sad news: Pellegrino says he “can’t remember.” (Sure, Frank.)