Last night, as part of a special Tonight Show episode, Jimmy Fallon went to a few of his favorite New York City places, including the famously exclusive Italian restaurant, Rao’s, in East Harlem.
In the clip, Fallon sits down with co-owner Frank Pellegrino, Jr. (at a table that once seated Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, and Celine Dion), who explains the restaurant’s strange seating policy. “It’s basically squatters’ rights,” he says. “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. So if you were here before, we never want to let you go.” There are only 10 tables at Rao’s, and you need an invitation from one of the regular table holders if you want to have dinner in the dining room.
After Fallon catalogs a few memories of eating with fellow celebrities at the restaurant, the late night host enters the kitchen to learn how to make Rao’s famed meatballs with Pellegrino and chef Dino Gatto. “The instructions for cooking the meatballs and the sauce are incredibly simple, and Pellegrino swears the marinara recipe is the same one used in the restaurant’s popular jarred sauce,” writes an Eater contributor. Once the cooking is finished, Fallon serves the meatballs to his Tonight Show partners Questlove, Black Thought, and Steve Higgins, who are all clearly impressed by Fallon’s creation.
The segment is a great portrayal of the history and allure of this legendary New York restaurant. In the other segments of this Tonight Show episode, Fallon hangs with UFC star Connor McGregor at Midtown East pub Paddy Reiley’s, grabs a beer with comedian Michael Che at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village, watches the Roots perform at Soho nightclub the Django, and delivers Rao’s meatballs to the firefighters at Engine 54 in Hell’s Kitchen.
Check out what went down at Rao’s in the clip below, and watch Fallon drop off the Rao’s meatballs at the fire station in the second clip.