What to Buy at Trader Joe’s

June 5, 2007

After weeks of surveying, shopping, and tasting we created an “insider’s” list of some best finds from Trader Joe’s – foodstuff that could be served beside a homemade dish at a dinner party, put out to nibble when guests arrive unexpectedly, or craved. As you might guess, we were quite discerning; TJ’s Mandarin Orange Chicken (frozen), although often suggested as a favorite, did not stack up to a picky foodie’s palate. Of course, we couldn’t try everything in the store. Please feel free to add a few of your favorites.

Frozen Foods:
Tarte d’Alsace (a French-style flat bread with ham, caramelized onions & gruyere cheese)
Garlic Naan Bread (cook on a pizza stone)
Trader Giotto’s Meatballs, Italian-style (beef or turkey)
Pastry Bites with Feta Cheese & Caramelized Onions
Penne Pepperonata
Seasoned Frenched Rack of Lamb
Chimichurri Wild Pacific Salmon steaks (grill, broil, or pan fry)
Green Garbanzo Beans
Haricots Verts (french-style green beans)
Dorot Chopped Cilantro and Basil (cubed in 1 tsp. portions)
Organic Brown Rice
Steelcut Oatmeal- especially delicious with TJ’s Ginger Spread and heavy cream
Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (pretty darn to close to homemade-tasting)
New York Style Cheesecake
French Apple Tart
Gone Bananas — chocolate covered frozen bananas
Frozen Fruits: all berries, cherries, pineapple, mango (much cheaper than standard stores)

Pre-cooked Baby Beluga Lentils
Whole wheat and regular Pizza Dough

Off the Shelf:
Marcona Almonds with Rosemary (great for nibbling)
Papadums chips (Yogurt & Dill and Tandoori Masala)
Soy & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips
Buttermilk Garlic Mash Chips
Banana Crisps
Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee
Mini Peanut Butter Cup (super creamy)
Pecan Praline Granola
Just the Clusters Ginger Almond & Cashew Granola
This Fig Walks into a Bar – (cereal bars in assorted flavors)
Cornbread Mix (delicately sweet, the edges crisp up perfectly while the middle is moist)
Wild Rice (fully cooked)
Harvest Grains Blend (Israeli couscous, red and green orzo, split dried garbanzos, red quinoa)
Lemon Pepper Papardelle Pasta
Organic Tomato and Red Pepper Soup (tetra pack)
Red Mole
Cuban Mojito Simmer Sauce
Thai Green Curry Simmer Sauce (try with pan-seared salmon; serve over steamed rice)
Ginger Spread (add to oatmeal, plain Fage yogurt, for “tea” or serve w/ cheese)

Best Bargains:
Assorted cheeses
Nuts (large selection)
Natural Flavored Dog Biscuits (1/2 the price of Petco)
Rawhide bones for “Fido”

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

tasterspoon September 14, 2007 at 10:18 am

This is a great idea for a list – Trader Joes is so hit and miss – their good things are great, and their bad things are terrible – no way to know without trial and error. I hope you do an “avoid” list as well. They have a frozen salmon with spinach in the middle that turned out awful – which is not to say the chef didn’t have something to do with that.

I’m partial to their dark-chocolate covered pretzels.

Their Raw Almond Butter is also really great as a sauce-enriching ingredient in curries and that kind of thing.

Love the Coconut Sorbet (I think it’s Sharon’s).

I regularly enjoy their frozen Key Lime Pie for breakfast with a spritz of whipped cream. (Though TJ’s version of KLP got a thumbs-down in a Cooks Illustrated taste test for, I think, being too tangy, I like the tang.)

Eggplant caponata (in a jar on the shelf) makes great appetizers on crackers or topping over their frozen gnocchi.

Lastly, I’ve had exceptional experiences with their Bool Kogi (Korean marinated beef)…but also bad experiences where it was all fatty and gristly. You roll the dice, but when it’s great it’s awesome.

Julia May 10, 2008 at 11:32 pm

Don’t forget dried lychees and mangosteen. Great price on almond meal too. I also heard a rumor that their 3 for a 1.79$ dark chocolate is really made by Guittard. Even if it isn’t, it’s darn good chocolate for the price. Also, Morello cherries in a jar… so good! And their pizza dough is great too.

abi May 10, 2008 at 4:34 pm

their frozen chocolate croissants are absolutely amazing, they taste like they come from a bakery!

zillah May 10, 2008 at 4:41 pm

Chocolate Joe-Joes and now chocolate-covered Joe-Joes! So much tastier than an Oreo. Peppermint Joe-Joes come out around the holidays and they are delish.

Also, they sell these over-sized, hand-tossed tortillas that amazing. Uneven and bubbly, they are fantastic and a superior choice for all your tortilla applications.

Elisa May 10, 2008 at 9:31 pm

The Hawaiian Style Salt and Vinegar kettle potato chips.

i forget the name, but they have these dark chocolate covered peppermint drops that are like knock-off york peppermint patties.

Court May 10, 2008 at 11:14 pm

…I *especially* love TJ’s frozen chickenless nuggets; the Soy Dream ice cream and Tofutti Cuties (although you can find those elsewhere); and the frozen meatless balls. I also appreciate the jarred curry sauces and the packets of cooked lentils found in the produce section.

DocChuck May 11, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Well, first we ONLY buy our milk (no hormones), dairy products, and eggs at Trader Joe’s. No better quality anywhere else, in our opinions.

We also like their produce, salads, and specialty produce items. We know that we can usually find that “elusive” item . . . kumquat, key lime, fresh herbs, etc. when we need it.

Favorite snack? Trader’s peanut butter filled pretzels (salted variety).

Finally, the main reason we do the majority of our shopping at Trader Joe’s is that the company will NOT sell ANYTHING imported from china. And my wife and I, for nearly ten years, have boycotted ALL products from china.

Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 11:59 am

I love their haricots verts. Saute’ them in some olive oil until they are a very dark brown and add a little salt. Delicious!

Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 7:06 pm

Try the frozen mac and cheese—AMAZING. Mac and Cheese fanatics dis it until they try it. It is fantastic! Super cheesy and horrible for you.

Lauren May 13, 2008 at 7:38 pm

I’m a big Trader Joe’s fan. We shop there often. However, there are a few things that I would recommend *against* buying there. First off, their store-brand cereals leave something to be desired (at least the ones I’ve tried, the honey bunches of oats and frosted mini wheats knock offs).

Sometimes the produce is just fine. I buy the guacamole kits, for instance, and they’re great. However, I’ve yet to buy a piece of fresh fruit that I enjoyed. They’re usually either off in texture or lack flavor.

Their frozen fruit is *amazing*, though. I’ll eat a few pieces of their frozen pineapple and cherries as a dessert. They’re so sweet and tasty, hands down the best frozen fruit I’ve ever had (and I’ve purchased pretty much every kind available in Seattle).

Oooh, their frozen chicken teriyaki is also very tasty, flamed broiled. I don’t even like chicken that much, but I’ll happily eat this dish.

They also have great palmier cookies. They’re usually gone after three hours–my roommates devour them (okay, me too ;)).

One more thing… their fruit bars are great. Unlike the Dreyer’s fruit bars, you can actually taste the fruit. Mmm, I want one right now.

Chris May 13, 2008 at 10:05 pm

Their Chocolate Macadamia Lacey’s are on the top of my must buy list at TJ’s!

Anonymous May 16, 2008 at 4:06 am

I thought the idea of Larks Liver Pate sounded unethical and probably wouldnt be delicious, but in fact I was so wrong on both counts. No more foie gras for me it’s Trader Joe’s Larks Liver and garlic pate every time.

Bobbi May 30, 2008 at 11:26 am

I was quite surprised to see the comment that Trader Joe’s does not sell anything imported from China. That is refreshing news to hear. It seems that items from China, especially food items are to be avoided if at all possible. We have heard too many stories about unsafe products. I find it difficult to imagine why we need to import items like juices and produce, etc when we have excellent producers here in our own back yard.

anonymous November 20, 2008 at 10:16 pm

the hummus sampler is really good, and i like the pita bread. most of the stuff they sell there is good, my dog loves the chicken wrapped rawhides.

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trish July 7, 2011 at 2:56 am

I* have waited soooooo long for fresh pate from Trader Joe’s…and now, finally, we are getting out very own the the middle of the country KANSAS CITY !! I used to shop TJ’s in Pasadena, so very familiar with all of the goodies, and some of the places try to immitate, but don’t get it right!

Now if only we had an In N Out Burger place, my life would be heavenly….you know one cancels out the other!! Ha!!

angele battielle July 7, 2012 at 2:36 pm

the cranberry orange scones yummmmm!

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