Living in cities hours from the nearest Trader Joe’s has left me really excited about living near a Trader Joe’s again. In St. Louis, we have so many types of grocery stores, specialty meat markets, and bakeries. There are farmers markets, too. I try to explore a different combination each week.
What I like about Trader Joe’s the best is that it offers reasonable prices for fancy-ish ingredients. Like every Trader Joe’s I’ve visited, the employees are friendly and the parking lot is a death trap. Here’s a rundown of some of the most memorable foods we’ve tasted, categorized on a spectrum between “Favorites” and “Meh.”
- Mini Ice Cream Cones: These cones are tiny. Like, “How many in a serving size?” tiny. What makes these cones extra appealing is the dark chocolate coating that also coats the inside of the cone, pooling at the bottom tip.
- Garlic Spread Dip: The ingredient list is short, including garlic, oil, salt, and lemon. This is essentially Toum, Lebanese garlic sauce. It’s pungent and worth it. We’ve been enjoy this dip with pita and grilled meats and vegetables.
- Kung Pao Chicken: For $4.99, a surprisingly solid meal. The pack comes with frozen chicken thigh pieces, vegetables, sauce, and peanuts. Jake, who usually prefers chicken breast meat, doesn’t complain about the dark meat in this dish. The sauce is slightly spicy, not to sweet, and tangy. You could buy a worse frozen Chinese-takeout meal for more.
- Beef & Broccoli: I have a suspicion that the sauce in these two meals is basically the same. Still, a decent-tasting meal that will scratch the take-out itch.
- Shrimp Toast: As a little kid, I hated shrimp. Now, I consider shrimp a special treat. Because of my shrimp-aversion, I never did taste the shrimp toast served at the fancy Lee Ann Chinn. I found these crispy and addicting. The shrimp mixture on top had a pleasant bite. Jake liked them too, but said the ones at LeeAnn Chinn had much bigger shrimp on top.
- Herb Dijon Salmon: This fish is pre-marinated and pre-sealed with a curious expiration date that’s marked ahead by days. This fish looks like it shouldn’t taste fresh, but will as long as you purchase the ones furthest from the expiration date. We like the garlicky salmon topping. It’s a simple meal to prepare on a busy night.
- Vegetable Birds Nests: These tempura vegetable birds nests crisp up well after baking. They come with a sweet and tangy soy dipping sauce. This has been one of my favorite Trader Joe’s products for seven years.
- Pork Pot Stickers: A classic Trader Joe’s product we often keep in our freezer. You can also find great potstickers at your local Asian grocery store, but these are a convenient standby.
- Haricot Verts: These tiny, delicate, wispy French green beans taste like, well, like green beans, but they’re fun to eat. Trader Joe’s sells them in bags larger than typical frozen veggie bags. We occasionally keep them on hand in our freezer.
- Masala Veggie Burgers: These veggie burgers are flavorful and slightly spicy. You’ll find potatoes and peas inside, almost like the inside of a samosa.
- Fresh Shishito Peppers: You can often find blistered Shishito peppers tossed in togarashi seasoning at Japanese restaurants. They’re fun to eat, not only because they taste delicious, but because one out of ten is spicy! I easily prepared these at home by searing them in a hot pan with salt and pepper. Then, I seasoned them with salt and pepper and served them with a dip made from soy sauce, honey, rice wine vinegar, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil.
- Kalamata Olive Hummus: A cross between salty olive tapenade and hummus.
- Spicy Hummus: This hummus is hotter than the other “spicy” store-bought varieties we’ve tried throughout the years. Besides the heat, I really like the seasoning of the spicy mixture plopped in the center. It almost has a curry flavor.
- Nature’s Path Hemp Plus Granola: It just tastes good. A little crunchy, the tiniest bit sweet, I found a cereal I’ll actually eat for breakfast or a quick snack. Usually I don’t enjoy eating cold cereal.
- Caesar Salad Kit: Trader Joe’s Caesar kit includes croutons, a large pouch of shredded parmesan cheese (instead of a tiny packet of grated) and a dressing which tastes better than the name brands brands I’ve purchased from other grocery stores.
- Frozen Indian food: We’ve tried the lamb vindaloo, paneer tikka masala, chicken tikka masala, palak paneer, chana masala, and garlic naan. Some of the entrees like the lamb come in smaller portions because they’re packed with a rice compartment, while the chana masala chickpeas are sold alone. Each meal costs around $3-4. Of course they don’t taste as good as the Indian food we order from our favorite restaurants, but we found them richer and a tad spicier than we expected. The garlic naan’s a steal. Each bag comes with four pieces. Simply bake them briefly, but don’t overcook, and brush with a light sheen of butter.
- Basic marinara sauce: One of our staples for spaghetti night. I doctor it up with fresh garlic, onion, and red wine.
- Pastry Pups: Little hot dogs wrapped in puff pastry seasoned with parmesan cheese and garlic. A few pups make a rich and umami-filled treat.
- Mini Beef Tacos: If you like taquitos, you’ll enjoy these. They crisped up nicely and paired well with spicy salsa from our local Mexican grocery store.
- Frozen Alaskan Cod Fillets: Easy to thaw and prepare. I make baked cod about once every other week.
- Caramelized Onion Dip: Ridiculously delicious.
- Frozen Grilled Cauliflower: These florets roast in the oven to a delightful crisp. Maybe, even better than fresh.
- Ghost Pepper Potato Chips: These pleasantly spicy chips are the closest thing I’ve found to Red Hot Riplets. They have a similar BBQ flavor.
- Goat Cheese Pack: Three flavors for $5.
- Pumpkin Rolls: Flaky, light texture. Lacking a strong pumpkin spice or cinnamon flavor. The glaze is very sweet, but also doesn’t have a strong pumpkin spice flavor. Overall, very pleasant, but they won’t change your life.
- Frozen Mozzarella Sticks: We also served these to our family on Superbowl Sunday. I liked them. Everyone thought they were OK. Some of the cheese oozed out of the seasoned breading.
- Frozen Mango & Cream Bars: We were surprised to find that these are tiny, individually wrapped ice cream bars with no sticks. The mango flavor strikes us as too muted and not tangy enough, but we’ll still finish the box. On the other hand, the Raspberry Cream Bars are delicious.
- Pumpkin Spice Rooibos: A pleasant caffeine-free option. A little sweet and fruity. Not my favorite, but sometimes the mood strikes.
- Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches: These hold so much promise and look picture perfect. They just don’t taste that good. The ice cream tastes unsatisfyingly fake and the cookies taste like cheap shortening. Grab the chocolate lava cakes or mini ice cream cones instead.
- Tea Tree-Lavender Dish Soap: The label says, “Lots of foam” (not true) and “. . .next to Godliness.” If God is actually like this dish soap, he or she is very dirty. The environmentally friendly factor is great, but it doesn’t seem to clean my dishes well.
- Refried Beans: Bland. The can boasted that the beans were 99% fat-free. No wonder they tasted so flat. I did not notice a full-fat version.
- Frozen Buffalo Wings: We tried these Superbowl Sunday, a day I worked in the morning. They weren’t terrible. The buffalo flavor was tasty and the skin rendered-up OK. If you are really craving chicken wings, you’re better off ordering take-out from a restaurant.
- Pork Rib Bites: These are fully-cooked rib bites coated in BBQ sauce that you heat in the oven. While they taste fine, their texture is kind of mushy. In fact, they are nearly identical in flavor and texture to Applebee’s “cross cut ribs.” So yeah. . .
- Sandwich bread: So far, the types I’ve tried tasted dry. Let me know there’s a variety that strikes your fancy!
- Muhamarra dip: This is a thick dip in the same vein as hummus but made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses. In theory, I should like it, but found it’s cumin flavor overwhelming. Other bloggers give it good reviews, so try it for yourself. *I’ve enjoyed this dip at other restaurants.
- Pretzel Bagels: Whenever I visit Einstein’s, I always order a pretzel bagel with honey almond cream cheese. I bought a bag of Trader Joe’s and hoped they’d remind me of Einstein’s. Unfortunately, I found them blander and not very pretzel-like even after toasting and brushing the top with butter.
- Chicken Taquitos: Bland and soggy in the middle. You’ll need a lot of salsa and sour cream.
- Tarragon Chicken Salad Sandwich Wrap: Awful. Both Jake and I literally spit out our first bite.
- Frozen Garlic Fries: While the actual french fries are fine and crisp up well in the oven, the garlic oil sauce is awful. I tossed about 1/8th of the packet with the fries hot from the oven and they tasted overwhelmingly garlicky. Even fries with a little bit of oil had an off-putting flavor.
What are your thoughts on Trader Joe’s? Do you have any old favorites or opinions on their new products?