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The 20 toughest restaurant reservations to get in America

Mark the dates: From infamous Rao’s to Bestia and beyond, these are the toughest restaurant reservations to get in the U.S.

By Kristina Jenkins

For the devoted fine-diner, prime eating and world-class drinking are well worth the wait. Even a very, very long wait. Even half a year. We all know some restaurants are tough to get into—from the best Italian restaurants in America to the best sushi restaurants in America and the best vegetarian restaurants in America, there are reservation challenges to be had all across the country. But a select group of restaurants are special; they require patience, yes, but also zealous perseverance to get into. The toughest restaurant reservations to get in America demand a dedication to using calendar reminders, speed dial and sheer tenacity. Follow Time Out USA on Facebook; sign up for the Time Out USA newsletter

Toughest restaurant reservations to get

Photograph: Tova Carlin

1. Rao’s, New York City, NY

Restaurants Italian East Harlem

Wait time: Members only

An East Harlem red-sauce institution, this 12-table Italian restaurant has a long history—the restaurant was established in 1896—of being next to impossible to book. Really, the only way to dine is by negotiating an invite from one of Rao’s rich-and-famous regulars. Alternatively, go for an actually accessible reservation at the Las Vegas or Hollywood outposts.

Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare
Photograph: Noah Fecks

2. The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, New York City, NY

Restaurants French Hell's Kitchen

Wait time: 6 weeks or more

The only three-Michelen-star restaurant in Brooklyn, the Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare books reservations six weeks out for intimate 18-seat kitchen-counter dinners. For a chance to experience Chef Cesar Ramirez’s ever-changing tasting menu, aspiring diners should set a calendar alert for 10:29am on Mondays: Every Monday at 10:30am, the reservation book opens and a flood of calls come in. Those who make it past the busy signal can look forward to 15-plus courses from a very exclusive perch.

Talula's Table
Photograph: Courtesy Talula's Table

3. Talula’s Table, Kennett Square, PA

Wait time: 1 year or more

A longtime farm-to-table destination tucked away in charming, unassuming Kennett Square, PA, Talula’s Table remains one of the hardest restaurant reservations to score in America. A café and market by day, the shop transforms into a private dining room at night with a table that books up a year out. Interested in reserving the Farm Table for 10 to 12? Call Talula’s at precisely 7am. 365 days in advance.

Australian wagyu on houba (magnolia leaf) with red miso sauce at n/naka
Photograph: Zen Sekizawa

4. N/Naka, Los Angeles, CA

Restaurants Japanese Palms

Wait time: 3 months or more

We (binge) watched mesmerized as chef Niki Nakayama meticulously tended to gorgeous plates within her kaiseki-style restaurant on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. To experience that culinary magic in person, though, patience is required. With a maximum capacity of 26, reservations for dates three months out are typically snapped up within the hour of their release online every Sunday at 10am. Waitlists are available, though, so patience is rewarded.


5. Minibar by José Andrés, Washington, D.C.

Restaurants American creative Penn Quarter

Wait time: 1-3 months-plus

Miss out on a culinary adventure to Ferran Adrià’s elBulli? Try to secure one of the twelve seats at Washington, D.C.’s Minibar by chef José Andrés—an Adrià disciple—for a progressive meal merging art, science and unmistakable culinary flair. Seasonal reservations are acquired via email and roll out every three months. If sheer proximity to this hot ticket suffices, snap up a seat at the adjacent Barmini, Andrés’ culinary cocktail lab.

Photograph: Tim Klein

6. Schwa, Chicago, IL

Restaurants Contemporary American Wicker Park

Wait time: 3 months or more

In Chicago’s Wicker Park, an 18-seater dedicated to serving magnificent fare without pretense takes a decidedly casual approach to its status as one of the hardest restaurant reservations to nab in the country. Chef Michael Carson’s one-Michelin-starred Schwa only accepts reservations by phone, books up three months in advance and has been known to spontaneously close for the night. Just…because.

Trois Mec
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

7. Trois Mec, Los Angeles, CA

Restaurants American creative Hollywood

Wait time: 2 weeks or more

Pop-up hero Chef Ludo Lefebvre put down roots with partners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (of Animal fame) to launch Trois Mec, a restaurant aimed at serving superlative food without the flash. Diners can come by seats two weeks out via online ticketing, which opens every other Friday morning at 10am—and generally sells out within the hour.

8. Momofuku Ko, New York City, NY

Restaurants Contemporary American East Village

Wait time: 15-30 days or more

Chef, author, TV personality and man behind the Momofuku culinary empire, David Chang opens perpetually popular restaurants around the world. At his gastronomic playground Momofuku Ko, seats are particularly hot and easily some of the toughest to come by in the country. Available 15 to 30 days out, would-be diners must log in to an online system at 10am each day (prepare to hit that refresh button) for the chance to successfully land reservations.


9. The French Laundry, Yountville, CA

Restaurants French Yountville

Wait time: One month or more

Chef Thomas Keller established legendary Napa Valley restaurant the French Laundry in 1994 and the three-Michelin-starred establishment remains an incredibly sought-after culinary experience. Want a reservation? Try your luck on OpenTable or dial the restaurant daily to book a table one month out to the calendar date.

10. é by José Andrés, Las Vegas, NV

Restaurants Spanish The Strip

Wait time: One month or more

At the Las Vegas iteration of José Andrés’s culinary lab, the eight-seat bar books one month out by first-come, first-served email reservation only. Lucky correspondents will snag a seat for an experimental 15-course tasting in a space within the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas hotel.
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