You don't have to go full freegan to eat without a wallet. Times are hard, but that's no reason to deprive your stomach of tasty treats. Here are our Top 10 spots for free edible samples in Los Angeles:
10. Trader Joe's
For some reason, I always forget that Trader Joe's has samples. But then I wind up with some emergency morning grocery shopping, and show up with, perhaps, a hangover, some serious sleep deprivation, or a combination of the two. When that does happen, I'm more than a little happy to see them offering sample cups of coffee. I'm not sure I've ever paid attention to what specific type of coffee it was, merely that it saved my life that day. They serve lunch and dinner samples too, which is great when you show up hungry, as it sates your appetite just enough to prevent you from buying three packages of flat bread with six different kinds of hummus, then finishing half of it on the drive home. Find a location.
9. Whole Foods
There always seems to be some kind of fruit to pick at in the produce area, as well as some little cubes of cheese over by the dairy section. But the bigger locations also have enormous sections of prepared food items. While grazing with your fingers at the salad bar is neither encouraged nor endorsed, going up to the guy behind the counter and asking to try things usually nets some tasty samples. It's especially nice when you need a little pick-me-up after you've been picketing outside all day. Find a location.
Whoever said "quality over quantity" never did any heavy sampling at Costco. Where else can you walk into a place with no money whatsoever, and eat some teriyaki chicken, a mouthful of ravioli, chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, a cup of tortilla soup, a handful of nuts, a cracker topped with seafood salad, a piece of toast and a slice of cake, then wash it all down with shots of apple juice, Gatorade and some orange colored vitamin drink. It is, in the end, the perfect place if you're obese and homeless, yet for some reason have a Costco card. Find a location.
Just like at Nijiya, this large Koreatown supermarket offers free samples of tasty treats from their native land. Starting around 10:30 in the morning and running until 6 or 7, it's a great opportunity for shoppers not familiar with how to navigate an occasionally daunting grocery store, to learn about how to simply prepare some foods they might otherwise have been too confused to purchase. Or you can just look at it as a free snack. 3250 W Olympic Blvd, L.A., (323) 733-6000.
Surfas is the perfect place for when you suddenly realize that your stock pot isn't big enough to fit all five of those chickens you just bought, and you also happen to be in the mood to test out some nice olive oils (all you have to do is ask for a sample). They also, often on Fridays between 12:30 and 2, have demos at the front of the store for various products, with, of course, tastings. They tend to ramp up as we get closer to the holidays, and the next installment is this Saturday, courtesy of SerendipiTea.
Showing up to a Japanese market on a weekend feels like going to an Obon festival, but with free food and minus all the ritual. On Saturdays and Sundays from noon until seven, you can augment your purchases of inexpensive 24-packs of Kirin, secretly addictive Kewpie mayonnaise and small chocolates shaped like mushrooms, with gratis bites of dumplings, seasoned rice and whatever else the nice Japanese women feel like heating up over their mini burners. Find a location.
Want some dessert, but with a little less guilt? Well rather than buying a 100 Calorie Snack Pack of Oreos (where more packaging and smaller portions really just means higher prices), you can simply drop into SusieCakes and have a sample or two. But if that fear of walking in, not seeing any samples, then feeling obligated to buy something occurs-- no worries. Their samples are available "all day, every day." Talk about customer service. Find a location.
Yeah, yeah. We all like the brown bread ice cream from this cult favorite creamery. But really, is there anything there more satisfying than having the opportunity to try the latest innovative flavors from Scoop Master Tai Kim? Sampling is a much encouraged practice (he is all about showing off flavor combinations), but if you don't want to be "that guy", you should probably buy something eventually. You can also take advantage of their $1 offer for multiple samples. 712 N Heliotrope Dr, L.A., (323) 906-2649.
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They do it at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, too, but Andrew's has what tends to feel like friendlier service and a friendlier sampling policy. I'm also heavily inclined to support any cheese shop that has things like an evening of grilled cheese sandwich and beer pairings. You are also rather unlikely to have an experience like this one. 728 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, (310) 393-3308.
1. Any Farmers Market
Definitely the healthiest option in the free sample racket. At farmers markets, you'll find incredibly nice people going out of their way to push toothpicks of very fresh and rather delicious produce. It's part of the shopping practice to test all your options before you buy (or to just sample as much as you can before heading into the office). Also, thanks to my Locavore iPhone app, I now know to expect things like tomatoes, grapes, raspberries, apples and Valencia oranges. Find a location.