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Nopalito's Chickpeas, Locanda's Pizza Bianca, and Other Restaurant Freebies That Make Their Mark

Spicy chickpeas at Nopalito. Photo: David Liebovitz

Remember the fried wonton strips you used to get for free at Chinese American spots? Or those old fashioned mom-and-pop Italian joints that almost seemed to pride themselves on how much bread and butter they could stuff you with before the meal? For the most part, those days are over. I've heard chefs say so much gratis bread ends up in the trash, it's basically like throwing money away. But when a restaurant does the pre-meal giveaway right, it stays with you long after dinner ends, becoming a very good reminder to go back. Here are some freebies I can't seem to forget. 

1) The Western Addition's reigning organic Mexican eatery Nopalito gives small bowls of spicy roasted chickpeas to diners in lieu of chips and salsa. Although dessert is limited to seasonal popsicles, everyone gets a mini Mexican shortbread cookie with the check. 

2) Pacific Catch serves little bowls of edamame and pretzel goldfish before meals. Eat them together in the same bites. It's better that way, promise. 

3) Tyler Florence is a master at pleasing the masses, so it's no suprise people are gushing over his freshly baked fluffy popovers almost as much as they do over him. They're baked in muffin tins, coming straight from Wayfare Tavern's oven to the table at dinner time. 

4) One of the biggest differences between Mission newcomer Locanda and its big sister Delfina is the bread service. After diners place their order, slices of Roman pizza bianca are brought for all. It's like a slightly thinner, crispier rendition of foccaccia. You can order more for $7 if you get hooked.

5) Prospect gives slices of chef Ravi Kapur's cacao nib-dotted banana bread to brunch-goers. Smart diners save room for his sugary glazed monkey bread too. 

 

It's the little things that make the difference, right? Tell us about your favorite pre-meal freebies in the comments section.