We Tried A Bunch Of Things At Trader Joe’s (Updated)

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.”

FAVORITES

  • 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.

kung pao tj

  • 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.

TJ beef and brocoli

  • 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.

Shriimp Toast

  • 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.

salmon Collage

  • 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.

masala burger

  • 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.

PicMonkey Collage

  • 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.

DSC_0617

  • 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.

File_000 (83)

  • 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.

JUST OK

  • Chocolate Lava Cake: I can’t believe I’m going to say this, as I typically enjoy sweet and salty desserts, but these struck me as too salty.
  • 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.

St

MEH

  • 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 just 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? 

24 Comments

  1. Love Trader Joes! One of our favs is the frozen coconut shrimp. Their coffee is also pretty good. I need to make a trip to Asheville soon!

  2. Thanks for this list. You’ve given me some things to look for and try. We like the Quinoa & Black Bean Chips. If you’re looking for a good beer at a cheap price I like Simpler Times & Name Tag. They’re what I call a good lawn mowin’ beer. Not the best in the world but perfect for enjoying on the deck and surveying your freshly mowed lawn.

  3. I love the trader joe’s orange chicken for an easy meal with lots of leftovers. I serve it with quinoa and tons of veggies. (and I acknowledge that its basically orange marmalade over the chicken, he he). I also like their goyza and yesterday picked up a butternut squash one…we will see how that tastes!

  4. Since there is no Trader Joe’s in the Quad Cities – and one isn’t coming anytime soon – I usually stock up on trips to Chicago, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, St. Louis and other places around the Midwest that have Trader Joe’s. Among the many things we get, we like their tuna, the salted peanuts and almonds (my wife loves the little bag-sized almonds for snacks at work, salsa (the roasted garlic salsa, Hatch Valley green salsa and the Salsa Verde are our favorites), and the blueberry breakfast bars. (We stocked up on the seasonal Pumpkin bars on our last trip into Chicago, but were disappointed with the pumpkin toaster pastries.) I use the Trader Joe’s Mango shave cream in a tube, my wife loves the pure cherry juice, and she also likes the vitamin supplements. It’s no wonder that an average trip to Trader Joe’s for us is nothing less than a $50 bill.

    Do you guys go to the one in Brentwood at the Promenade? I own a small stake in that place with the amount of money I’ve spent there over the years.

    • Surprised there isn’t one in the Quad Cities! Thanks for the recommendations. Was eying the green salsas trying to decide if I should try them. We do go to the one in the Brentwood Promenade. That parking lot is truly horrid. Took me a while to figure out that I should enter and exit at Rose.

  5. “the parking lot is a death trap”
    And therein lies the reason I rarely go. I’m pretty sure my blood pressure spikes into dangerous levels whenever I deal with a TJ parking lot. Plus, since I have an Aldi, Costco, Cub, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s, and Lakewood Co-op all within 5 miles of me, I don’t feel a strong need to go. That said, I think there’s a TJs in Minnetonka that actually has OK parking, and some of the things on your favorites list look tempting…

    • I used to shop at the Minnetonka one-would usually park in the ramp next door. You have a million grocery store options in the TC too.

  6. I’ve never been to a TJ’s! It’s (seriously) on my bucket list. I love visiting new to me grocery stores. My folks were just in MN & my mom brought me a jar of cookie butter I’m anxious to try.

  7. Trader Joe’s is an addiction.;) When the first store opened here in St. Louis (Brentwood) I absolutely couldn’t figure out what all the excitement was about. It seemed like a weird store with weird items and wasn’t a place I could do all of my shopping at once. But then you pick up a thing or two….find you simply can NOT live without those items (however odd they may be) and you are hooked. Soon you are filling shopping carts on a regular basis. Frequently, the items you can’t live without are discontinued. So, never admit you love something at TJ’s and maybe they will keep it in stock. 🙂 That said, keep an eye out for the goat cheese log coated in cranberries which is seasonal and amazing. The crunchy dried broccoli is frequently out of stock because it has a following. The frozen edamame are good as a veggie and make really good hummus. The flax seed corn chips are really tasty and lower in carbs and higher in nutrients than most chips.

    • Thanks for the recommendations. We will look for that cranberry goat cheese! I was wondering about that broccoli too, but was afraid to try it. The new ghost pepper chips are always sold out.

  8. I never get to TJ’s like I’d like too…of course driving a minimum of 90 minutes is a requirement, so….hopefully I’ll get to one soon!!

    • It was nice that there was an ALDI in Mason City, though. The one thing you have that we don’t is plenty of affordable meat counters and meat lockers.

  9. I forget about stopping at Trader Joe’s when we are in the cities- I usually don’t have a cooler along to get things home. Thanks for a great list.

  10. I might have to try some of these things. I really like trader joes, and I”ll be in the cities tomorrow, may have to stop!

  11. I love Trader Joe’s! I hit the one in Rochester when I’m out there 🙂

  12. We haven’t been to a TJ in a while (enter sad face), but our go-to items are the coconut macaroons, the sun-dried tomato chicken sausage, the pico de gallo (when we’re being lazy–because, pico), and cheese. I’m loving the idea of lawn-mowin’ beer, so I may have to make a trip soon.

    • Thanks for your recommendations! Pico is so delicious, but sometimes you just want to buy it ready to go:) And their cheese rocks. ALDI has a fun cheese section too.

  13. Whoa an ambitious list for sure! I’ve found that Trader Joe’s is a great place if you’re looking for organic pre-prepared frozen TV dinner kind o’ stuff. I prefer whole foods, but we rarely go into the center of the grocery store. The Trader Joe’s we had in Madison was huge with a butcher & fish monger etc. Every other one I’ve been to has been very small…

  14. One of my go to items is the turkey tenderloins, it is a great lighter option than pork and mixes things up a bit. I usually cook it in the crock pot with bbq sauce and vidalia onion dressing and shred it for a quick sandwich. Treats- love the chocolate covered graham crackers, they don’t always have them but the Keebler version was one of my childhood faves and every bite is a little bit of nostalgia!

    • Thanks for sharing your favorites. Your turkey tenderloin crockpot recipe is really calling my name. Going to try that later this week or over the weekend! Do you get the vidalia onion dressing at TJ’s too?

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