All Of Rao's Frozen Entrées, Ranked

Rao's Homemade, like myself, takes Italian cuisine seriously. My Italian family makes pasta with red sauce every Sunday, so I'm always looking for ways to integrate quality Italian into my day-to-day. The Rao's brand makes this super easy; it sells an array of jarred pasta and pizza sauces and frozen entrées that make mealtime simple, convenient, and most of all, tasty. 

Rao's offers many different options for its frozen selections, including mushroom risotto, penne alla vodka, and even chicken Parmesan. I was really excited to try them all and see what Rao's could do with some of my favorite foods. Though all of them were high-quality and represented the authentic Italian dishes I've come to love, some really stood out more than the others. I cooked all the meals according to instructions on the box and ranked them on factors including consistency and flavor. 

Some recommendations are based on firsthand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by the manufacturer/distributor/etc.

11. Chicken Alfredo

Something had to come in last place. And honestly, this chicken Alfredo dish was one Rao's Homemade meal that I didn't want to come back to for a second bite. Granted, chicken Alfredo has never been a favorite of mine, no matter who is making it, so it was a bit doomed from the start. I generally find it too bland, too rich, and lacking any flavor. Although this Rao's product tasted more high-quality than many other versions of the dish that I have tried in the past, I was still not a fan. 

The pasta, sauce, and chicken all blended together in a sea of pale, nondescript creaminess. The sauce was a basic Alfredo, so it has prominent Parmesan and milky notes that created a bland overcoat for the noodles and chicken. I couldn't taste any particular flavor or savoriness in chicken slices, either. Overall, it was just a pretty boring choice and far from my favorite. Every other dish had something more interesting to it, so this one, unsurprisingly, ranks last. 

10. Caramelized onion carbonara

The chicken Alfredo entrée I tried from Rao's was certainly heavy and indulgent because of the copious amount of thick and creamy sauce, but it doesn't hold a candle to Rao's caramelized onion carbonara. The latter meal is much, much thicker. I could barely get through a bite without needing a break, and I still had tons of Rao's to try.

Spaghetti carbonara is typically made with eggs, butter, Parmesan cheese, and a meat, like the uncured bacon added to Rao's version of the dish. As you can imagine from that ingredient list, things can get gooey — fast. And while I typically love caramelized onions as a velvety and savory accompaniment, I doubt carbonara needs more fat from the onions, which appear to have been sauteed in oil. This dish may taste divine, but it also tastes like the food equivalent of "too much of a good thing." Although the taste is top-notch, I could really only go for a bite or two, so it ranks low. 

9. Mushroom risotto

Let me start of with a vehement warning about Rao's mushroom risotto: There are lots and lots of mushrooms. It was the first thing I noticed as I dug into this dish. The unmistakably strong smell of mushrooms permeated my whole kitchen, almost like I was cooking a whole package of mushrooms on the stovetop. If you don't like mushrooms, you'll absolutely hate this Rao's frozen entrée. And if you are on the fence, it will certainly not ease you into things. But if you love all things mushroom, you are in luck.

The second thing I noticed about this dish was how unappetizing it looks. It's all just pallid, grey gloop. Although I have to take some points off for appearance, I got to add some back for the comfort that this dish emulates. It's creamy, filling, and you can easily decipher the texture of the rice grains. But otherwise, it reminded me of oatmeal. I was able to stomach a few more bites than the lower-ranked caramelized onion carbonara, so it ranked slightly higher. But, the flavor and consistency got old fast — so I couldn't eat a whole portion of this dish. 

8. Meatballs & sauce

Meatballs are in indelible part of Italian-American cuisine. So, I was very excited to try Rao's meatballs and sauce entrée, especially considering Rao's status as a high-quality Italian food purveyor.

Honestly, I expected more from this Rao's dish. The meatballs tasted like if McDonald's chicken nuggets were made with beef. The texture was spongy and far too soft for a proper meatball. They were also woefully under-seasoned and far too bland for my liking. I would have preferred if the meat was browned for a bit longer. 

But that sauce? Wow, Rao's always absolutely nails it with the sauce. My mother's meatballs clear these, but don't tell her that I could have mistaken this sauce for hers. Since the meatballs themselves weren't the best, though, and there's no pasta in this dish, the sauce only has so much influence over my ranking of the product as a whole. 

7. Four cheese ravioli

Ravioli can be, well, ravishing. There's so much to love about soft pillows of pasta dough surrounding a smooth, cheesy core. Rao's four cheese ravioli is exactly that. It's warm, inviting, and endlessly comforting. Plus, it's the frozen meal I'd reach for on a wintery day after too many Zoom meetings. 

I found little wrong with this dish. The sauce, of course, is Rao's authentic recipe, and the pasta dough has a lovely squishy texture. The cheese could have had more flavor, though. The lack of savoriness or punch of herbs meant that this meal leaned more on the heavy side.

I would highly recommend juxtaposing this meal with a bright green salad with a vinaigrette. But, you don't have to go fancy when it's an Italian dinner; all eyes are on the sauce and pasta, anyway. The salad just becomes a lovely, refreshing foil to the heavy pasta. Nothing about these ravioli stood out to me, but they definitely weren't bad, either. The products ranked higher than this one all had a special selling point — which is something this ho-hum ravioli lacked.

6. Penne alla vodka

When I took my first bite of the penne alla vodka, I was pretty unimpressed. It seemed like a dull pasta in a simple, solid sauce. I wanted to move on to the more exciting options, like chicken Parmesan or meat lasagna. But when I decided to come back for a second bite, I realized I hadn't given this one enough of a chance. Though it is indeed simple, it's simplicity done very well. I also liked that because its size was smaller than other Rao's products I sampled, it too much less time to heat up and enjoy. 

Vodka sauce is a lighter, brighter version of red sauce made with, you guessed it, vodka. Though I haven't enjoyed Rao's jarred vodka sauce as much as others in the past, the sauce really was the star of this frozen entrée. It's delicious and clean-tasting, and the sauce really enhances the pasta for an overall, pleasant meal. Moreover, the penne alla vodka dish gave a reprieve from the richness of the other dishes on this list — which was much appreciated. 

After trying Rao's take on this Italian classic, I could see myself ordering penne alla vodka at a restaurant and being happy with my decision. This sauce was a delight that made the product memorable, even if the overall pasta was pretty simplistic.

5. Chicken Parmesan

Making chicken Parmesan at home can be a laborious and time-consuming process, no matter the recipe you choose. So, a frozen chicken Parmesan from a trusted brand like Rao's would appear to be a no-brainer. But is it any good?

The answer is undoubtedly yes. This chicken certainly tastes homemade. If this dish was served to me in someone's home, I would just assume that they had made it themselves. The meat, unlike Rao's frozen meatballs, was flavorful, with lovely toasty, brown edges. The chicken is high-quality, and not too heavy or fatty. The spaghetti and red sauce underneath the chicken tasted a little rote, but I could also feel that way because of how much pasta I had eaten by this point in the tasting. Overall though, Rao's chicken Parmesan is a solid take on a classic dish. The chicken was truly fantastic, although the noodles and sauce underneath could use a little work.

4. Four cheese pasta bake

The four cheese pasta did not initially stand out among the frozen meals that Rao's sent me for this review. In fact, I didn't even want to try it. Cheesy pasta? Been there, done that. Though, after trying this dish, it was clear that I had not, in fact, been there or done that. This dish was a very pleasant surprise.

Don't get me wrong, this dish is still cheesy pasta. But Rao's really knows how to dress up a simple meal and make it into the ultimate cozy dinner. I was able to taste each one of the cheeses in this bake, rather than a melty mush of different flavors. It had a luxurious flavor and mouthfeel. Plus, the herbs and spices added savoriness and zest that's missing from many of Rao's other pasta dishes. It's elevated, delicious comfort food. The details are what made this dish better than most of the others I sampled. 

3. Rigatoni Bolognese

Bolognese sauce is an Italian staple. It's both rustic and elite, as well as hearty and simple. There's nothing like it. If you prefer your sauce smooth and devoid of texture, this isn't the sauce for you. Instead, Bolognese incorporates finely chopped vegetables like carrots, celery, mushrooms, and onion, plus meat like ground beef or pancetta. While it is rewarding to make it yourself, it is surely a labor of love. Luckily, Rao's rigatoni Bolognese is a convenient shortcut to this classic dish. 

I've talked a lot about comfort food in this article, but this tray of rigatoni Bolognese might be the pinnacle. Every bite was full of meaty, flavorful sauce, the vegetables come together to create a homey and complex base. I haven't tasted a jarred Bolognese or frozen version of this dish that could come close to Rao's. Plus, the rigatoni pasta was the right choice, since the large noodles can hold their own against the hefty sauce. It tasted amazing and so, so authentic, but wasn't quite as jaw-droppingly delicious at the top two products on my list. 

2. Meat lasagna

Although I might be a real snob about meatballs, I'm even more picky about lasagna. After all, my mom, a top-notch Italian cook, makes some incomparable lasagna. As a result, I expected Rao's to immediately fall to the bottom of this ranking — simply for daring to exist in the same world as those lasagnas of lore. Clearly, I needed a humility check, because the Rao's lasagna is excellent.

Rao's meat lasagna just tastes like it came out of a home kitchen. There's that smooth, slow-cooked sauce that perfectly walks the line between rich and light. Then, there's the high-quality lasagna noodles that, if you cook the dish per the package's instructions, turn out nicely al dente. Just be forewarned that it takes around 45 minutes to bake if you use the oven.

Plus, this dish offers the perfect ratio of meat and cheese, neither of which suffocate the other or draw attention away from the dish as a whole. I thought this lasagna really did its job and was even more than the sum of its parts. Well done, Rao's. However, the top product in this ranking just incorporated more unexpected flavor that blew me away more than this lasagna did. 

1. Penne arrabbiata

I would never have expected this penne arrabbiata to get the gold star on this ranking. Arrabbiata sauce uses red pepper dial up the heat to a level that regular pasta sauce doesn't dare go. The frozen meal in front of me was covered in some of the best sweet and spicy sauce that I've ever had. The pasta and the sauce alone would have been enough to give it the title of best frozen entrée. But, Rao's goes a step further with the addition of amazing and slightly-spicy sausage and creamy mozzarella cheese.

Another advantage of this product over the others is that it doesn't take quite as long to reheat, so you can get to eating it as quickly as possible. The sauce, pasta, meat, and cheese are all in perfect harmony and together, bring a ridiculous amount of flavor for such an unassuming dish. I would have this dish once a week if I could.


I considered several factors when I ranked these frozen meals. The preparation is standardized across the meals; for most, all I had to do was pop them in the microwave or oven and walk away. Although there is a considerable cook time for some of these products, I didn't factor this into how I ranked each of the products because all of them were rather simple to reheat. I noticed no difference in quality between the dishes I reheated in the oven and the ones I reheated in the microwave, except for the fact that the oven distributed the heat more evenly.

I did consider, however, the taste, texture, and freshness of each product. A watery or homogenous texture would knock off a few points, while bland meals ranked lower than ones that were quite flavorful. Overall, the best meals tasted like they could have been made that very day, from scratch, in a home kitchen. I looked for dishes where the flavors meld nicely and don't fight for dominance, and where the texture is discernible rather than a pile of mush.