My Mom Has Impeccable Taste & This Is the Only Tomato Sauce She'll Buy

Mother knows best.

March  4, 2020
Photo by Rao's Homemade

I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: My mom has the best taste. Impeccable, in fact. From always ordering the best thing on the menu (yes, I'll have a bite of that, thankyouverymuch) to jumping on the oat milk trend before it was the most coveted item in the dairy aisle, she's always had a knack for knowing what's good.

Her choice of tomato sauce is no different.

While other kids may have grown up slurping down spaghetti doused in Grandma's tomato sauce recipe (passed down for generations, of course), I grew up with something that's, dare I say ... better?

Rao's Homemade Marinara Sauce has been in my mom's pantry for as long as I can remember. Sure, there are many sauces that have made brief appearances over the years, but Rao's has always been our family's stalwart.

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Top Comment:
“When I read the headline "My Mom Has Impeccable Taste & This Is the Only Tomato Sauce She'll Buy - Mother knows best", I thought: this better be Rao's Marinara. And, sure enough, it is. I first discovered the sauce back in Nov. 2013, after visiting Los Angeles, and tasting a dish of shrimp and tomato sauce, determined to find the sauce when the person who prepared the dish, didn't seem to remember what sauce she had purchased at the local Gelson's Market. Living in Montreal, I called Gelson's and customer service knew right away which sauce it could be. I found my favourite, Marinara, at $9 in 2013 and now it's $12.95 (CDN) and available at some Provigo grocery stores. Well worth the price, since it lasts for 3 x 2 serving portions. So delicious. Yes, I could prepare it on my own--but the tomatoes are the key ingredient which are not the same variety grown locally. ”
— dietitian-nutritionist

Today, it's quite literally the only sauce she will buy.

There are two reasons for this: The first has to do with the quality of the sauce itself. "It's just that good," my mom told me recently over text. "It has the perfect amount of flavor and seasoning, and the consistency is nice"—as in, not too thick, not too soupy. Basically, it's her "super sauce."

The ingredients are simple, and the lineup is exactly what you'd find in a recipe for most homemade marinaras: Italian tomatoes, olive oil, onions, garlic, basil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Unlike a lot of canned tomato sauces out there, this one is free of added sugar, preservatives, or coloring, so each small-but-mighty ingredient in the sauce gets its moment in the spotlight.

She likes to mix it with al dente penne or fusili, along with warmed-up frozen peas and tiny hunks of fresh mozzarella—it's the most sublimely comforting weeknight dinner. You could also use it to make manicotti, tomato soup, or as a dip for melty mozzarella sticks. (Sky's the limit here, people.)

Watch: How to Make Rao's Meatballs

The other reason it's such a hit with my mom (and this is important) has to do with the mysterious allure of the legendary restaurant from which the sauce originated: Rao's in New York City's East Harlem neighborhood.

Keeping with the theme of impeccable taste, she has been dying to get a table at this notoriously impossible-to-get-into spot for years. (One 1996 New York Times article summed it up best: "A Table at Rao's? Forgetaboutit.")

But, practically speaking, a jar of the Marinara Sauce (which was inspired by the original recipe used in the restaurant, a senior brand manager for the company confirmed) is the closest my mom and I will probably ever get to dining at Rao's. And honestly, that's fine by me. I'd much rather be sitting comfy at home in my pj's, anyway—with a hot bowl of pasta and the latest episode of Outlander most nights.

More Tasty Ideas for Marinara Sauce...

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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


Michael C. May 10, 2020
My Costco dropped Victoria white linen and now carries Rao. I saw Rao's in the Walmart yesterday for $6 and change per jar
miriam S. May 10, 2020
For me jarred sauce is Plan ‘B’ as I make my own sauce in a large amount and freeze in small containers. There are wonderful Bolognese recipes available - some right here on Food 52.
I found RAO’s Marinara Sauce at Amazon for $8.98 and RAO’s Pasta Sauce Arrabbiata (a little spicier) for $6.59.
I live downtown San Diego and the local supermarket charges just under $10 for RAO’s sauce. There you have it.
Homemade is still the best. I don’t mind the time it takes, and I do understand the speed of the jar.

ps/ Helen Rennie YouTube. She is amazing. Warm, engaging and her recipe for Bolognese is the best. Easy to prepare, but three hours oven time, so it’s a great weekend recipe.
Jess C. May 10, 2020
Linen sauce you can buy at Costco
Janet B. April 18, 2020
I agree with Rao’s marinara! I used to make my own sauce for years & my family always looked forward to it. Don’t remember how I tried Raos but I was hooked immediately & never looked back. I’m semi-retired & work part-time in a grocery store. When they go on sale I stock up & always have at least 4 jars in the cupboard😊😊😊
Michael C. March 29, 2020
Sunday Sauce or Sunday Gravy should not be over thought. It can as simple as your favorite tomato sauce with any veal, pork, or beef you prefer (or any combo of those meats) for as long as you prefer or until the meat is tender and it is time to eat. Don't forget the Parm!!
Gini M. March 29, 2020
We find that the Rao's sauce is much too salty.
Ann C. March 29, 2020
I don't find it salty at all and I am pretty sensitive to salt, but everyone is different, even the way we taste things. It is so yummy it is a shame you find it too salty.
MacGuffin March 29, 2020
Interesting. A little salt goes a long way with me but I don't find Rao's salty.
sharyn March 29, 2020
Funny you should mention salt. Last year I started cutting down on my salt intake. I now find that most restaurant foods are to salty for me and the same goes for prepared foods from grocery stores jarred or otherwise. So no matter how you say it Italian gravy or spaghetti sauce, the right sauce is always homemade
Ann C. March 29, 2020
I totally agree that Rao's is the best. It is the only one I buy, too!
Elaine S. March 28, 2020
Recently my local organic food store has been selling Rao’s pasta which I have never seen before (oddly). I’m a big fan of Rusticella, which I can’t find in the new town I’ve moved to. So I bought the Rao’s: JUST AS GOOD, if not BETTER. So happy!
miriam S. March 27, 2020
In answer as to where the recipe for “Italian Gravy” can be found, google Italian Gravy recipe on Food Network. It’s there in what sure looks like a winner provided preparation and time is on your side.
sharyn March 28, 2020
hello miriam, I recommended this recipe for spaghetti sauce, which in found on the food network courtesy terry kennedy. As I mention in a previous quote it is the best sauce or gravy on the planet. Remember to plan an all day cooking partly in your kitchen. I hope you enjoy.
leslie March 28, 2020
Our family has been making Sunday "gravy" for generations, a tradition we hold dear. We have entered into colorful debates on the gravy vs. sauce issue. Technically speaking, because the tomatoes are cooked in the drippings of meat, one would call that gravy. Either way, it is one oh-so-deliciously comforting pasta meal.
I am not clear on why Sharyn's recipe requires 7 hours cooking time. I believe that is too long and would render an over-cooked gravy/sauce.
From the browning of meats - and we use a variety like sweet and hot Italian sausage, pork and beef braciolatini, and couple of pork ribs on the bone - 3 1/2 to 4 hours should be perfect. During the slow cooking of the gravy/sauce, we make our meatballs using veal and pork. Half the batch goes into the gravy/sauce about 1 hour prior to serving and the other half gets a breadcrumb coating, a nice golden brown baking or frying (traditionally fried), and served with Antipasti around lunchtime.
Where would we be without our family meal traditions!
sharyn March 28, 2020
Leslie thank you for your comments. I have found out from this post everyone has a opinion of Spaghetti sauce. I had no idea just how personal and deep the feelings go. I love it. Just to throw another wrench in the mix. My grandfather was from Palermo Sicily came through Ellis Island 1904 or so, He cooked very old school. Ok to the wrench. His sauce also had cinnamon in it. No matter what sauce I make I also have to put cinnamon in it or it doesn't taste right. Back to the Italian Gravy Recipe. again this wonderful sauce was cooked on the show by Terry Kennedy, she said 7 hrs or so. Maybe it doesn't have to cook that long. But It brings back so many wonderful smells in you kitchen if your not Italian you think you must be
Smaug March 28, 2020
I've run across-and used- cinnamon in a tomato sauce in a pastitsio recipe (a Greek pasta dish)- I don't much like it personally, but a small amount really does make a big impact; I can see how you'd miss it if you were used to it.
beejay45 March 27, 2020
I can't comment on the quality of any of the canned/jarred tomato sauces out there because I've never tried any of them. I grew up with homemade sauce with a specific flavor profile. That's the only one that tastes good to me. ;) I never order pasta with tomato sauce in a restaurant because of that, sticking to oil and garlic if I have to order pasta. However, after this article, I may actually give Rao's a try. I've bought some of their pasta, so... Thanks!
miriam S. March 27, 2020
One thoughtful poster recommended “Italian Gravy” (Food Network). There was a warning about the recipe being an ‘all day project recommended as a great treat for family and friends during the Holiday season. I checked it out and have decided to make it. It looks sensational and worth it. It will take seven hours for the sauce to come together. That’s fine. I’m here. But it is noted that the prep is only thirty minutes. NO WAY. I see no way that thirty minutes will get you there. The prep is time consuming. Just thought I’d recommend this Italian Gravy Red Sauce, but be aware of the time this will take.
Thank you ‘Everyone’ who posted their favorite jarred red sauces. I will try each one.
Gigi March 27, 2020
I would also LOVE to make that ITALIAN RED GRAVY you found the recipe for! Where did you find it? Or can/will you share it?? Thanks in advance! 😘
Jeri C. March 27, 2020
Before I even opened the article I just KNEW it was Rao’s. This has been my go to since our stores started carrying it and if I’m too lazy to make Marcella Hazans (or not spending a whole day making Sunday Gravy)
Gigi March 27, 2020
Me, too, Geri!! I knew it was theirs!! Love it!!
vir March 27, 2020
Rao's is pretty good but Bella Petrella is excellent. If I cant find it I will use Rao.
Michael C. March 27, 2020
I have learned a little from this forum. Rao's is pretty darn good especially if you are in a pinch for time. There are a number of others that are just as tasty, it is up to personal preference. We can all make a good basic tomato sauce in a short time span but the are jar versions that rival grandma's. To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain (who I miss greatly), 'It is tomatoes, onions, basil, and garlic, don't mess with it'.
Lynn B. March 27, 2020
This sauce is so good! A little pricey but amazing.
William D. March 27, 2020
I'm not paying $11 for something I can make myself.
MacGuffin March 27, 2020
Fairway Market in NYC has (had?) a fabulous marinara—not quite as good as Rao’s but really wonderful. Much cheaper than Rao’s and the quantity is more. Unfortunately, things aren’t looking good for Fairway.
Gigi March 27, 2020
I've found Rao's at Walmart and Publix for around $6 ....just saying.
sharyn March 27, 2020
remember to get a very large pot and if your not going to be feeding an army have a lot of freezable containers. On the internet: Terry Kennedy Italian gravy; also you can go to food network the recipe is there. it was a episode for calling all cooks.
AlwaysLookin March 27, 2020
FYI this is available at Chicago Area Costco's ... not sure about other areas.
AlwaysLookin March 27, 2020
I tried this for the first time a couple of weeks ago ... have to admit it's pretty, pretty, pretty darn good!! I think it was their Bolognese that has as much meat in it as mine!
sharyn March 27, 2020
I have been getting so many hits from my last post. I couldn't resist to post another. when I am in the mood for a very long drawn out recipe for pasta and is just for the ingredients and then the labor of cooking for about 7 hrs or more. I cook this recipe and believe me I only do this on Christmas. I found this recipe on food network about 16 to 18 years ago. its called Italian Gravy. I was intrigued. My family always called it spaghetti sauce. I had never heard of the phrase Italian Gravy. But my personal opinion its the best spaghetti sauce or Italian gravy on the planet, sorry grandma.
Gigi March 27, 2020
Can you please share it with me/us?
MacGuffin March 27, 2020
The first time I heard “gravy” in Detroit was in the early ‘70s from a friend whose Italian father was from New York.
Smaug March 28, 2020
I believe that usage of "gravy" is location specific, but I don't remember from where exactly- somewhere on the east coast- Jersey maybe?
Gigi March 26, 2020
Mine, too!! Well worth the extra dollar or it..I guess this Mama has excellent taste, too!!😊
DiGoddess March 26, 2020
I discovered this little gem at my Neighbor hood Smart an Finial. The price is more than some of the others but this is a wonderful sauce I use it as a starter for many of my Italian dishes.