By People Staff
July 06, 1998 12:00 PM


Over the years, Frank Pellegrino has acquired the nickname Frankie No because he turns down so many would-be customers at Rao’s, the 102-year-old, 10-table East Harlem eater that numbers Regis Philbin, Woody Allen and Fran Drescher among its faithful. “The last 25 years I have basically had the same clientele,” says Pellegrino, 54, who inherited Rao’s from his aunt Anna Pellegrino Rao in 1994. “Those who have steady reservations won’t part with them.”

So who needs a reservation? Now you can pick up a jar of Rao’s marinara at the supermarket, buy the CD An Evening at Rao’s, tunes plucked from Rao’s jukebox, or try your hand at the pasta e fagioli recipe in Rao’s Cookbook: Over 100 Years of Italian Home Cooking (Random House, $40). “This is Southern Italian cooking, nothing fancy about it,” says author Pellegrino. “I call it Italian soul food.” The book also tells how the Rao family left the Naples region, landed in New York City in the 1880s and set up a dining spot, where, nowadays, regulars like actor Johnny “Roast Beef” Williams might be seen rubbing elbows with John F. Kennedy Jr. Says Pellegrino: “No one, in their wildest dreams, would have believed Rao’s would become what it has become.”