Why Is It So Popular: The Italian-American eatery is a 117 year-old New York tradition, with famous patrons like Woody Allen, Robert De Niro, John Gotti, and Bill Clinton. There aren’t menus—an owner will sit down and explain what’s available on any given night—and no credit cards are accepted. And they’re never open for lunch or on weekends; no exceptions. But there are all-restaurant sing-a-longs, and by the end of the night you could very well become best friends with your fellow diners.
Average Cost: $100 per person
Getting a Reservation: Owner Frank Pelligrino didn’t get the nickname “Frankie No” because he’s so accommodating. Don’t bother calling in advance—you’ll just get a voicemail telling you they’re booked indefinitely. All tables are reserved for the year, like a box seat at a baseball stadium, and those can cost between $1,000 and $25,000 annually, assuming they’re available at all. A few single night reservations were auctioned on eBay in 2010, as part of a charity fundraising, but that offer hasn’t been repeated. You want to get into Rao’s, you need to know somebody with clout, like a mayor or a mobster.
2) Sukiyabashi Jiro
Why Is It So Popular: Besides being the only sushi restaurant in the world to receive three Michelin stars, it’s the only sushi restaurant in the world with its own feature-length documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” There are ten seats and a set menu, with twenty pieces of sushi and absolutely no substitutions or appetizers.
Average Cost: $370
Getting a Reservation: If you speak English or have a noticeable non-Japanese accent, your chances of getting seated are slim to none. (Nobody on the staff, especially not owner and sushi master Jiro Ono, speaks English.) Reservations are more commonly accepted via a hotel concierge, and even then you’ll need to do it several months in advance and make a ¥20,000 ($200) deposit. If you don’t show up, there’s a penalty fee of ¥15,000 ($150).
3) The French Laundry
Why Is It So Popular: Twice a day, this Napa Valley hotspot—which Anthony Bourdain once called “the best restaurant in the world, period”—offers a nine course tasting menu, with no ingredients used more than once.
Average Cost: $270 per person for a 9-course tasting menu (not including wine)
Getting a Reservation: You can book a reservation up to two months in advance by phone, assuming you don’t get a busy signal. Phone lines open at 10am Pacific/ 1pm Eastern, and even if you get through to an actual human being, they’ll likely just put your name on the waiting list. Online reservations can be made at OpenTable, where two tables—for a party of four and two, respectively—are released every day.
Why Is It So Popular: The 26-seat restaurant offers contemporary American cuisine with an emphasis on molecular gastronomy. Adventurous menu items include sea urchin ice cream and pad thai made with jelly fish tentacles. Also, there are no waiters or waitresses. Head chef Michael Carlson brings everything directly to your table.
Average Cost: $110 fixed price for 10-course taster menu.
Getting a Reservation: The process is frustratingly random. The only way to get a reservation is by calling, and the phone is rarely answered and the voicemail is always full. Even if someone picks up and you get a reservation, there’s no guarantee it’ll be honored. The restaurant has been known to close without notice, for no apparent reason, canceling reservations on a whim. Your odds of being fed depend entirely on whether the chef is in the mood.
5) Club 33
Disneyland, Anaheim, California
Why Is It So Popular: Walt Disney opened the super-secret eatery in 1967 exclusively for his most rich and famous guests. Today it’s a members-only club, and the only place in Disneyland that serves alcohol. It’s where celebs like Johnny Depp, Elton John, Tom Hanks and Katy Perry go to escape the Disney crowds. The average tourist can’t get in, and probably couldn’t even find it. The club is hidden above the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and the sole entrance is a locked blue door with a “33” address plate. There’s a buzzer and intercom for members, but don’t bother if you’re not on the list.
Average Cost: $100 for lunch or dinner, not counting the $25,000 membership fee and $10,000 annual dues.
Getting a Reservation: You’ll need to be one of only 487 members, and getting a membership ain’t easy. The waiting list was officially closed back in April of 2007, but they briefly started accepting applications again last year, in celebration of the club’s 45 anniversary. And they’ll do it again in 2014, after a six month renovation that begins in January. According to Disney’s Club 33 website, a membership to Club 33 isn’t impossible but “like all good things, requires patience.”
6) Talula’s Table
Why Is It So Popular: There’s a reason the “Table” isn’t pluralized in their name. Although Talula’s can accommodate up to 30 guests each night, the most coveted is the restaurant’s “farm table,” which can seat up to 12. The menu changes once a month (for December, there’s winter chowder, short ribs and farmstead cheeses), and dinner starts promptly at 7:30pm. If you’re late, you go hungry.
Average Cost: $140 per person for the farm table
Getting a Reservation: You have to plan a year in advance. Exactly a year in advance. As in 365 days out. If you call the restaurant on December 16th, 2013, they can make a reservation for you on December 16th, 2014. Those rules apply to everyone, without exception. If it seems ridiculous to make dinner plans for another calendar year, this may not be the dining experience for you.
Why Is It So Popular: Restaurant Magazine recently ranked it as the second best restaurant in the world (down from #1, a position it held for the last three years), and claimed it “always (has) at least one dish that makes you feel glad to be alive.” That’s a tall order for dinner, especially food that employs so much liquid nitrogen and bark. But the menu’s strangeness is part of the appeal. Chef René Redzepi’s signature dish, The Hen and the Egg, is as much performance art as it is a meal.
Average Cost: $260 for tasting menu, additional $175 for wine pairing
Getting a Reservation: Remember the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld? He didn’t have as many restrictions as Noma. Reservations can be made three months in advance; but here’s the trick, you can only make reservations for a given month on a very specific day. And that day constantly changes. If you were hoping to get a table in March, you should have called on December 2nd. For April 2014 reservations, you’ll need to call on January 6th. The reservation line opens at exactly 10am Copenhagen time (4am Eastern Standard Time), and with about 20,000 people trying to book a table, they’re usually filled up within an hour.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in Bloomberg Businessweek.)