How long would you wait to get into a restaurant? An hour? A week? A month? A year?
These days, with apps like Open Table and Table8, getting restaurant reservations has never been easier. But in some of the world's best culinary destinations, scoring a coveted seat at the most in-demand restaurants can be nearly impossible. And wait times stretching up to a year (or eternity) are not unheard of.
Below are the most difficult restaurant reservations in the world, and how to get them.
Rao’s (New York)
If you live in New York you probably know Rao’s as the century-plus-old Italian institution in Harlem that you can’t get into unless you’re an A-list celebrity or a mob wife. If you’re from anywhere else, you probably know it as the company that makes the jarred marinara in your grocery store’s pasta aisle.
The place is even more legendary for its celebrity-ridden anecdotes than for the plates of lemon chicken and meatballs the sizea ya’ head.
How to make a reservation: Just give up now. No matter how much money you have, and no matter how much time you plan in advance, you’re not getting a table at Rao’s. Not unless you know a guy who knows a guy, who knows a lady, who knows a guy who’s friends with Hillary Clinton. Even then, you might not get in. Unless you actually happen to be Hillary Clinton. There are only 10 tables at this joint, and they are all “owned” by someone. The "owner" has the option to use the table on any given night, give it to a friend, or auction it off for a charitable cause.
How long you’ll wait: The wait is going to be long, it’s going to be grey, and it’s going to last you for the rest of your life.
How much you'll spend: $75+ (in theory)
The restaurant that put Nordic cuisine on everybody’s radar and turned Copenhagen into one of the world’s top culinary destinations has been the world’s hottest dinner ticket since it took home the honor of World’s Best Restaurant for three straight years through 2012. If you’re lucky enough to get a table at Noma, you’ll dine on a tasting menu of more than two dozen dishes that include some of the world’s most creatively prepared lichens, twigs and sorrell.
How to make a reservation: On the seventh of each month, you can try making a reservation by phone or online for three months in advance (on November 7 you can make reservations for February 2017). Chances increase for tables of four or more, and those willing to share a table with fellow diners.
How long you’ll wait: At least three months, unless you’re lucky enough to push past the other few thousand people trying to get a table, or you watch the online reservation system or chef Rene Redzepi’s Twitter feed for updates on cancellations (which do happen).
How much you'll pay: About $490 with wine pairing, $370 without.
El Celler de Can Roca (Girona, Spain)
Another former World’s Best, this restaurant in the small town of Girona, about an hour outside of Barcelona, is run by three brothers: Joan, the chef; Josep, the sommelier; and Jordi, the patissier. As endearing as that is, it’s the staggering 60,000-bottle wine cellar, contemporary Catalonian food with global influences and the modernist aesthetic that people wait months to experience.
How to make a reservation: You can book online 11 months in advance. Dates are released at midnight Spain time on the first of every month (which is somewhere around dinner time for people in Barcelona).
How long you’ll wait: 11-12 months. But you can always try emailing the restaurant and adding your name to the waitlist for any given date.
How much you’ll spend: Around $330 with wine pairing.
Sukiyabashi Jiro (Tokyo)
Even before the world fell in love with 91-year-old (and counting) sushi chef Jiro Ono after seeing the master at work in the celebrated documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a table at the 10-seat sushi palace in Tokyo was tough to secure. Now? Forget about it.
How to make a reservation: The revered three-Michelin-star restaurant opens for reservations on the first of the month, one month in advance, and even if you speak Japanese, you’ll have to be lucky to score a seat when you call up. Most accounts of successful trips to see the sushi chef/movie star are by booking through a hotel (usually one that costs more than the meal).
How long you’ll wait: One to two months.
How much you’ll spend: About $270.
N/Naka (Los Angeles)
Another victim of its on-screen success, this Los Angeles hot spot was already on fire before chef Niki Nakayama dazzled audiences (probably including you) with her beautifully made plates of modern kaiseki cuisine in the Netflix hit show Chef’s Table. It's only gotten more popular since then. Guests have a choice between the kaiseki or a vegetarian option, both 13 courses and equally priced.
How to make a reservation: Every Sunday at 10 a.m. PST you can try making reservations through N/Naka’s online reservation system for the corresponding week three months and two days in advance (N/Naka is only open from Wednesday through Saturday).
How long you’ll wait: Three months.
How much you’ll spend: $225 without drinks.
Talula's Table (Kennet Square, Pa.)
This little spot in Kennet Square, Pa. is probably the most unassuming eatery on this list. And not just because it’s in a town you’ve never heard of, but because it’s a cafe and gourmet market by day that transforms in a farm-to-two-table restaurant by night, serving up a constantly evolving menu of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
How to make a reservation: Call right when the shop opens at 7 a.m. and make a reservation for the farmer’s table 365 days in advance. You’ll need to commit to bringing at least nine other people with you. If you can’t make that kind of commitment you can ask about the lesser known kitchen table, which seats 10, but which Talula’s reserves for friends, industry workers and any lucky potential diners who might be unable to reserve the farmer’s table. Both tables serve the same 10-course meal.
How long you’ll wait: A year. Exactly a year.
How much you’ll spend: $100
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare (New York)
Brooklyn’s only three-Michelin-star restaurant is also the hardest place to get a reservation in the borough (and probably in all of New York). This 18-seat Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare is attached to a grocery store, and is relatively casual compared to its Manhattan counterparts. If you manage to snag a seat, you’ll be rewarded with a 15-course tasting menu and future bragging rights.
How to get reservations: Call Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. for a reservation six weeks in advance.
How long you’ll wait: Six weeks.
How much you’ll spend: $306
Grant Achatz’s first restaurant, Alinea, is one of only two restaurants in Chicago with three Michelin stars. Yet, arguably the only restaurant in the city that’s harder to get into is his next restaurant called, um, Next, which has no Michelin stars. Star or no star, the globally inspired menu which changes every few months still inspires legions of fans.
How you get reservations: Next is innovative in its reservation system as well as its menu, actually selling all-inclusive prepaid tickets to get in. There’s no set date for when tickets go on sale, so it’s best to follow the restaurant’s social media pages. If that doesn’t work, you can try your luck on Craigslist.
How long you’ll wait: Anywhere from a night to a month, depending on how much money you're willing to spend, how lucky you get and when tickets go on sale.
How much you’ll spend: $100 to $400 per person, without wine.
Speaking of tickets, Achatz’s mentor Ferran Adrià of elBulli fame followed up the world’s most celebrated restaurant with Tickets, a joint venture with his brother, Albert Adrià. One part tapas restaurant, one part culinary carnival, Tickets comprises five separate tapas bars, each with a different theme and style of cooking, but you can definitely get your fix of molecular gastronomy at this Barcelona establishment.
How to get reservations: Tickets releases reservations every day at midnight for the date exactly two months in advance. If you can’t plan that far ahead, you can try calling to see if there have been any last-minute cancellations, which happens more often than you’d think.
How long you’ll wait: Two months.
How much you’ll spend: $75+
Minibar (Washington DC)
Another of Adrià's disciples, another close-to-impossible reservation to nab (are you seeing a pattern here?). José Andrés’ Minibar is indeed mini, but reservations for the 20-to-25-course tasting menu became ever-so-slightly easier to score when the restaurant changed locations and increased the number of seats from six to 12. (Note: Andres’ similar eight-seat concept in Las Vegas is at least as difficult to get into, if not even more difficult).
How to get reservations: Reservations are accepted via Minibar's online reservation tool for two calendar months at a time, starting at 10 AM on the first Monday of each month. For example, on the first Monday in February, reservations are available for February and March, and so on.
How long you’ll wait: Up to two months.
How much you'll spend: $275 without wine or any other extras.