RAO’S | Meatballs & Marinara Sauce

by RRR
How to make Rao's Meatballs & Marinara Sauce

Founded in 1896 in East Harlem New York, Rao’s Restaurant is THE most iconic restaurant in the city, if not the entire United States.  And you will NEVER eat there!

According to Forbes Magazine, the tables at Rao’s are treated like real estate.  Literally.  The regular guests own “subscriptions” to the seats.  Which means you either have to be the Mayor of NYC or be lucky enough to befriend one of these Rao’s Subscribers.  AND, have them invite you for dinner at the famed restaurant.

Rao’s was featured in the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, in the scene when Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jordan Belfort is eating with Bo Dietl.  And Bo tells Jordan, “the last time you took these pills, you put your head in the macaroni.  I had to pick it up.”  I am paraphrasing, of course, because this is not an R-rated food website.  But a classic scene, nonetheless.

Even Martin Scorsese had to film this famous scene between the hours of 2am-6am, after the restaurant guests had left for the night.  So, if Marty’s not getting in.  Neither are you or I!

Rao’s does sell their popular Marinara and Alfredo sauces in the bottled aisle in your local grocery store, but this is not without some complaints.  First of all, one jar goes for around $10.  Second, shelf stable is never as good as homemade.  Never.  The amount of preservatives and stabilizers required in order to make a product shelf stable will always alter the taste and quality.  You can guarantee that the $10 jarred version is a lousy facsimile of what you get served in the restaurant.

But, the Executive Chef of Rao’s was generous enough to share the Meatball recipe and the Marinara recipe with the New York Times food editor.  And I’ve got them here for you.

Let me tell you, these recipes are easy, decadent and utter perfection.  So make your next Saturday night, Rao’s night!  Crack open a nice bottle of red, boil some macaroni, and watch The Wolf of Wall Street while you’re eating.

I swear you’ll feel like you’re there!

A note about the ingredients.  It is important to use San Marzano canned tomatoes for the Marinara.  San Marzano tomatoes are a varietal of plum tomatoes originating in the Campania region of Italy and are known for their flavor and quality in canning.  It is the only canned tomato that Rao’s uses in the restaurant.  Cento and Tuttorosso are good brands that carry Certified San Marzano tomatoes.

And Rao’s uses a combination of veal, pork and beef in the Meatball mixture.  This is what I fondly refer to as the Holy Trinity.  This is also important, as opposed to just using beef.  The veal adds a richness and smoothness and the pork adds a sweetness to the meatball mixture.

How to make Rao's Meatballs & Marinara Sauce

Rao's Meatballs & Marinara Sauce

Serves: 20 Meatballs Prep Time: Cooking Time:
Nutrition facts: 450 calories 20 grams fat
Rating: 5.0/5
( 1 voted )


  • The Marinara Sauce:
  • 2 oz. salt pork (or pancetta), cubed
  • Two 28 oz. can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 3 TBL sweet onion, minced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 large leaves fresh basil, torn into pieces
  • ¼ cup EVOO
  • 2 pinches of dried oregano
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • The Meatballs:
  • 1 LB lean ground beef
  • ½ LB ground veal
  • ½ LB ground pork
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly and finely grated
  • 1 ½ TBL Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups fine dry bread crumbs
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup EVOO
  • 1 large garlic clove, lightly smashed
  • 2 cups cold water


Marinara Sauce Instructions:

Heat the EVOO in a very large saucepan over med-low heat.  Once the oil shimmers, add the salt pork and saute until all the fat has rendered and the pork becomes crispy.  Remove the pork and set aside for the meatballs.  

Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and saute until softened.  Do not allow the onions or garlic to brown.  Add the San Marzano tomatoes in their juices and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce until thickened, about 45-50 minutes.

Once the sauce has thickened, add the fresh basil, oregano, salt and pepper and stir for 1 minute longer.

Meatball Instructions:

In a very large mixing bowl, combine the beef, veal, ground pork, crispy salt pork (from the marinara), eggs, cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, minced garlic and salt & pepper (as desired). Using your hands, mix the mixture until very well incorporated.

Slowly add the cold water, ½ cup at a time, until the meatball mixture is very moist.  You may not end up using all of the water.  

Shape into 2" meatballs, about the size of a golf ball.  Set on parchment paper until all meatballs are formed.  You should have about 20 meatballs.

Heat the oil in a medium sized saute pan over med-high heat.  Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the smashed garlic and fry the garlic until golden, deep-brown and crispy-but do not burn. Remove the garlic and discard.

Working in small batches (about 4 or 5 at a time) fry the meatballs in the oil until the underside of the meatball is brown and slightly crisp.  Flip the meatball in the oil and cook the other side to the same doneness.  Once the meatball is browned and crisped on all sides, remove from the oil  and set on a drainage rack.  Once all the meatballs have been fried and drained, submerge them into the sauce and slowly simmer an additional 15 minutes longer.

Serve the Meatballs & Marinara as is, or over cooked and drained al dente spaghetti.


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Catsie August 24, 2023 - 7:37 pm

Nice recipe! Thank you!
I would love the recipe for Macaroni Grill’s stuffed meatballs with their tomato sauce please!

Mary February 20, 2024 - 12:17 pm

I followed the recipe as stated. Unfortunately the amount of work involved did not yield the taste I was hoping for. The meatballs were good, but not melt in your mouth delicious. The marinara was so-so. I probably need to add a pinch of brown sugar to sweeten it up. I’ll try that on the leftovers to see if that makes a difference.


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