Two-Buck Chuck and...?
December 8, 2007 1:54 PM   Subscribe

What do I absolutely HAVE to buy at Trader Joe's?

Just two days ago, a Trader Joe's opened in my town. Now, I'm always hearing that Trader Joe's has the best this-and-that, but somehow I can't remember exactly what any of those things actually ARE (besides Charles Shaw wine, for some reason). So, for those of you who know Trader Joe's- what should I start buying there (as opposed to, say, Harris Teeter, my usual grocery store)?
posted by showbiz_liz to Food & Drink (93 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
We go to our brand-new Trader Joe's in Madison a lot, but mostly because they sell a lot of convenient food, not because they sell a lot of delicious food. I don't know of anything there that's the best of its kind. But there's a lot that's yummy. I like Avocado's Number Guacamole, the tomatillo salsa, the pineapple salsa, and the little caramelized onion and feta tarts (in the frozen section.)
posted by escabeche at 1:58 PM on December 8, 2007

There's nothing you have to buy. I don't know many people who like the same TJs items. Sure, the two-buck Chuck is cheap (and it's three-buck Chuck in Portland), and I keep a case on hand, but it's not great wine. I like the Salsa Autentica, but many people do not. What do you normally eat? Try those things from Trader Joe's...
posted by jdroth at 2:01 PM on December 8, 2007

Wasabi-covered peanuts (NOT peas) are heaven, but they can be difficult to find. They have them at Trader Joe's, so I usually pick up a carload or two when I go.

Their premade frozen stuff is great. Crab cakes and dumplings and such. I don't have anything more specific than that to tell you, though.
posted by painquale at 2:04 PM on December 8, 2007

Here's what I love from TJ's:

The frozen meals in general, and the frozen stir-fry-in-a-bag in particular.

The breads are pretty good.

Knock-off nutella

Frozen roasted veggies


Chicken sausage

The frozen, 3-minute brown rice is freakin awesome

As you may have noticed, most of this stuff is either convenience food or cheaper versions of the kind of stuf you'd usually find in Whole Foods. TJs is the kind of place I'd recommend going once a month to stock up on pantry or freezer items, but not necessarily meant to be your only supermarket.
posted by lunasol at 2:06 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

a pound of coffee

ginger snaps

frozen burrito

a tiny succulent plant in a cup

frozen fish

i have mixed feelings about trader joe's.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:07 PM on December 8, 2007

TJ's is cool, i go there occasionally. The indian foods in a pouch are amazingly good for the price, and I like the ready-to-eat salads.

But most of the "amazing" products people rave about have been knocked off by Ralph's, or your local equivalent chain supermarket.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:08 PM on December 8, 2007

Honey sesame sticks are really good.
posted by gavtaylor at 2:09 PM on December 8, 2007

there are a zillion things I love getting at TJ's but lets see....

Their spices- VERY reasonable.
They have good frozen veggies- their super sweet corn is so good.
They have lots of frozen desserts that are fancy enough for guests. I always have some on hand just in case.
Their frozen foods are great we always have the orange flavored chicken and a bag of the fried rice for a quick meal.
Good cookies- they have ALL kids so I would look for something up your alley. I like their pistascio cookies.
Good coffees.
I like thier peach sauce. I use it for a french toast stuffed with cream cheese and that on top.
They always have an end cap of new items which I love to try and they normally have a sample counter with great ideas.

Have fun.
posted by beccaj at 2:17 PM on December 8, 2007

Girlfriend recommends (we hit either the cary, nc or the new chapel hill store):
- dried persimmons (all dried fruit is pretty amazing)
- frozen flatbread pizza with carmelized onions, ham, gruyere
- phage yogurt with honey
- tj's brand caramel flavored low fat yogurt (tastes like panna cotta)
- frambroise (raspberry belgian lambic)
- peppermint marshmallows (and other seasonal treats)
- house brand fruit juice smoothies (like odwalla or Naked but cheaper)
- fresh squeezed orange juice
- preprepared or frozen meal stuff is usually very good and cheap
posted by alikins at 2:19 PM on December 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

This time of year, get their Candy Cane Joe-Joes. They're basically oreo cookies with crushed up candy canes in the filling. I love them and stock up before the holidays, because they're only available at this time of year. This is one time when hoarding can really pay off.
posted by chippie at 2:21 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Chocolate chip dunkers.
posted by IvyMike at 2:21 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

The thing about Trader Joe's is that everybody has one thing that they absolutely must buy there, but it's never the same thing for everybody.
posted by empath at 2:21 PM on December 8, 2007

I saw a review of their frozen, bake-em-yourself chocolate croissants recently that made me wish there was a store in Toronto.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 2:21 PM on December 8, 2007

I'm a huge fan of their Honey Mango Cream Shave. Not to eat, of course.

For eating, I always hit them up for fresh spinach, trail mix, nuts, Kashi cereals, vanilla extract, frozen fruit, and frozen edamame because all that stuff is cheaper than going to my local Jewel.
posted by bibbit at 2:23 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Things that are awesome and semi-unique to TJ's:
Dried mango with chile.
Smoked trout in a can.
Pizza dough (unbaked).
"Casablanca" trail mix (has a sort of curry flavor).
Greek-style yogurt.
Orange blossom hand soap.
Particularly good chocolate chips.

Things that they have an especially good selection of tasty and affordable types of:

Nuts and dried fruits.
Cheese and dairy products in general.
Prepared salads.
posted by exceptinsects at 2:26 PM on December 8, 2007

Mediterranean style hummus

Roasted potato salad

Peanut butter filled pretzels
posted by tristeza at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Things we buy at TJs:
the 3 cheese organic frozen pizzas are quite good (for frozen pizzas)
frozen fish (good quality:price)
frozen berries (price)
coffee (good price)
frozen green chili and cheese tamales (tasty and easy to prepare)
soy-meats - gardenburger/morningstar (price)
Tasty Bites heat-and-serve prepared indian food (best price)
Honey pretzel sticks (my wife loves em)
some wine
some nuts/berries/trail mix

If you're going to buy bread and not use it immediately, freeze it because it goes moldy quickly, in my experience.
posted by maniactown at 2:29 PM on December 8, 2007

I don't know that there is anything you can only find at Trader Joe's, but here are the things I buy there because it's much cheaper than the regular grocery store:

frozen shrimp
chocolates -- Toblerone to eat and Valrhona or some other kind to make brownies
Dried fruit -- cranberries, peaches, mangoes, blueberries , etc.
Organic food in general -- cereals, frozen vegetables, chicken
Ready-to-serve party food -- various dips, mini frozen cheesecakes, etc. (if I'm too lazy to make my own hors d'oeurves)

I wouldn't buy any fresh produce there as it isn't very good. In general, if money was no object, Whole Foods and its ilk are much, much better stores.
posted by bluefly at 2:31 PM on December 8, 2007

I like the vegetable masala burgers usually with one of their flavored naans wrapped around. You might find popular store products and other store-related news in Trader Joe's Community and 5 Trader Joe's ingredients --> dinner!. Frozen veggie mixes and a Greek frozen pizza (Olympiad, I think) are also good.
posted by PY at 2:32 PM on December 8, 2007

Awesome question. I buy:

-- Greek yogurt (they have their own TJ brand now, which I haven't tried)
-- turkey meatballs
-- frozen breaded chicken cutlets (MMM)
-- natural breakfast cereal (Barbara's)
-- organic peanut butter/soy butter
-- low-sugar organic jelly -- you want to try the strawberry if nothing else here
-- bottled lemonade
-- spaghetti sauce (all kinds)
-- molasses cookies
-- trail mix

plus lots of little packaged yummies. The reason I think this is a great question is because most of these things I buy because they were recommended to me by others -- there's so much there that it's good to have recommendations on hand.
posted by theredpen at 2:33 PM on December 8, 2007

Frozen puff pastry and pie crust (these are *way* better than the Harris Teeter equivalents.)
Wine. (I never went for the two-buck-chuck myself, but they have a lot of drinkable stuff in the $5-6 price range.)
Refrigerated pizza dough.
Frozen burritos, enchiladas, and pot stickers.
Cookies (they have some really good ones with pistachios and white chocolate chips, and they have ginger cookies that actually taste like ginger.)
posted by Daily Alice at 2:34 PM on December 8, 2007

I love, love, love the frozen new mexico green chile chicken soup business. We eat that literally once a week.

Also the dark chocolate caramels. My husband likes the toffee.

We had the organic frozen corn with Thanksgiving and it was fab.
posted by sugarfish at 2:38 PM on December 8, 2007

This topic comes up a lot over on Serious Eats, with threads such as what are your favorites from this store?, favorite Trader Joe's items, true confessions of a Trader Joe's virgin and best find from Trader Joe's?.

There's some serious foodies on the site, so the answers are pretty good.
posted by anildash at 2:43 PM on December 8, 2007 [9 favorites]

I have never had anything bad at TJ's with the exception of their supplements and their soy milk, the latter of which has gotten much better.

Their Cranberry Chutney is out of this world.
posted by munchingzombie at 2:44 PM on December 8, 2007

I don't go to TJ often but when I do, I stock up on the frozen brown rice already mentioned, as well as their heat-and-eat quesadillas (spinach and goat cheese is fabulous, wild mushroom is also very good). I also got some affordable black truffle oil there and was happy with it.

If you are averse to crowds, you may want to wait a few weeks before tackling TJ for the first time. They just opened one in my town (Columbia, MD) and I had my first panic attack in years when we were in there. Oh, the mass of people -- none of whom had any clue what they were looking for since TJ stuff is pretty TJ-specific -- all moving at a snail's pace through the aisles, bumping into one another, swarming the coffee was nightmarish.
posted by justonegirl at 2:45 PM on December 8, 2007

The TJ's Greek yogurt is really good. Honey's my favorite but pomegranate is tasty too.
I like the Indian food in a pouch too, and
tuna in various Thai curry sauces in a pouch.
One of my favorite TJ's products is their strawberry licorice.
A lot of their chips are unique too. Surprisingly their tortilla chips with flax seed are great.
I don't really buy a lot of fruits or produce there though.
Great selection of breads and cheeses too.
They oftentimes have interesting tea flavors and I like their sipping chocolate much better than other hot chocolate types.

I have a few things that I really love from there (above), but also have tried a few that have really not appealed to me either, but trying things out is always fun.
posted by harrumph at 2:46 PM on December 8, 2007

We like their cereals and granola bars, which are cheaper than the brand name equivalents. Also, the frozen stir fry packs are good. We used to get the frozen burritos a lot, but have started to cut back on them.

Chicken sausage. Coffee, absolutely. We also like the Japanese ice cream ball things, I think they are called Mochi and come in green tea, chocolate, or strawberry.

I don't like their salsas or deli meat.

And I second the peppermint Joe Joes. Very very good and only once a year!
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 2:47 PM on December 8, 2007

TJ's Organic Sprouted Whole Wheat Pappardelle

if you like whole wheat pasta, you may like this even better!

don't overcook it tho. For a dry whole wheat pasta, it doesnt take as long as some other brands.
posted by subatomiczoo at 2:49 PM on December 8, 2007

The Honey Mango Moisturizing Creme Shave (comes in a orange tube), and the Sugar Plum tomatos.
posted by blueberry at 3:01 PM on December 8, 2007

We get most of our fruit there, it's very reasonable. I agree with breakfast cereals (oatmeal and boxed) being more reasonable and better than regular grocery stores. We also buy all our our almonds, cashews and walnuts there. We also like their vitamins, and our dogs *love* their "Natural Assorted Dog Treats".

Two Buck Chuck? Forget it! It sucks!

Try different things, you'll find what you like.
posted by 6:1 at 3:02 PM on December 8, 2007

I don't go to TJ often, because they're a long haul across the sprawl to get to any of the ones in my area. One item that I was impressed with a while ago was a house brand red pepper spread. I like to snack on pepper or eggplant spreads once in a while, the problem is that the ones from southeast Europe usually come in big monster jars with no preservatives, which means that they can go moldy on me (within just a couple of days!) before I finish them. The Trader Joe's version has preservatives in it, so it keeps according to my lazy approach. That may or may not be a recommendation, depending on your POV.

Central Ave. in Nordeast Minneapolis has Mexican/Ecuadorian, Indian/South Asian, and the famous Holy Land deli and grocery almost within walking distance of each other, so the need to drive across town for fun and interesting olives, cheeses, rice, hot sauce, spices, you name it, is almost nil.
posted by gimonca at 3:04 PM on December 8, 2007

The thing about Trader Joe's is not that they have any one particular amazing thing. It's that their stuff is made with real ingredients. (Just try to find something with corn syrup in it. Now try to find something without corn syrup or corn starch in a regular supermarket), and it costs much less than Whole Foods (and often less than a regular supermarket).

Plus, you get free samples and a cool balloon. What's not to like?
posted by designbot at 3:09 PM on December 8, 2007

I live across the street from a Trader Joe's so I do shop there but only to run in for things I plan to eat that day. Anytime I've done any serious grocery shopping there I've regretted it. Most of the frozen items are good but much of the boxed or packaged items I think seem cardboardy. The exceptions are their boxes of cake mix. This time of year gingerbread and pumpkin are available and good.

I tend to avoid the produce, bread and dairy because they all seem to go bad almost immediately. I don't know why milk goes bad 3 days before the best before date but it does all the time. Bread goes moldy right away and produce wilts before the weekend is out.

I do really like their coffee and I like the bottles of italian sodas they have.
posted by marylynn at 3:12 PM on December 8, 2007

The stuff I get practically every time:

Frozen chocolate croissants (Saturday morning breakfast)
Frozen "apple blossoms" (microwave and dump heavy cream over them -- Best. Dessert. Ever.)
Cinnamon bread (toasted, with butter -- heaven)
"Antioxidant" granola
Greek yogurt
Bean-and-cheese burritos (great fast lunch)
Frozen pesto tortellini (my other great fast lunch)
Fancy soups (I like the corn chowder and the red pepper a lot these days)
posted by scody at 3:14 PM on December 8, 2007

Oh, and I always get their heavy cream -- it's much heavier than whipping cream in the regular grocery store, and I use it enough (since I love making sauces for dinner) that I generally use up a pint before it goes bad.
posted by scody at 3:15 PM on December 8, 2007

My current favorites:
chicken shu mai - frozen in a bag and easy to heat up ion a skillet.
cinnamon-sugar pita chips are awesome and tons cheaper than similar brands (like Staci's)
organic spaghetti sauce is a good buy.

I've been happy with their tarts too - the chocolate almond is way tasty.
posted by pointystick at 3:40 PM on December 8, 2007

If you like snacking on peanuts, I recommend the "blister peanuts," which have a particularly excellent flavor and crunch. In general, their nuts and dried fruits are a good bargain.
posted by redfoxtail at 3:40 PM on December 8, 2007

They have the best graham crackers. They're thick slabs with crunchy cinnamon sugar tops and they come in a clear plastic box which is great for storing craft supplies when the cookies are gone. Which they will be!
posted by Biblio at 3:41 PM on December 8, 2007

- baking mixes - vanilla bean cake, pumpkin bread, green tea, and gingerbread ones are pretty good and much more closely approximate baked goods made from scratch than normal mixes
- bagged fresh veggies like broccoli and cauliflower (convenience and cheaper than the supermarket
- frozen orange chicken is a pretty close approximation of restaurant stuff.
- frozen morningstar farms veggie burgers/buffalo wings (much cheaper at TJs)
- TJ's Buried Treasure (TJ's generic version of Pirate's Booty, sooooo good.)
- Diet Cherry Hansen's Soda, mmmm
- Mediterranean Style Hummus, if you like the smooth kind
- garlic tandoori naan, one of my fave quick snacks is this and some hummus
- Milton's Bread, much cheaper than the supermarket

Half the fun of TJs is just going in and wandering and picking up yummy looking stuff, although I imagine that might be hard in the first few weeks after opening.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 3:42 PM on December 8, 2007

Dried hibiscus flowers.
posted by The Straightener at 3:49 PM on December 8, 2007

I keep their Dark Chocolate covered Soy Beans at work for an afternoon snack. I like the Irish Breakfast Tea, very caffienated.

There used to be a chocolate chocolate chip pancake mix that was awesome and i wish they's bring back. I also miss the Ekstra Weis Beer, from Lithuania.
posted by readery at 3:51 PM on December 8, 2007

They have this sun-dried tomato/pesto/cream cheese dip in the refrigerated section, usually near the cheeses. This stuff is heaven on a cracker. Highly addicting.
posted by azpenguin at 3:53 PM on December 8, 2007

TJs #1 product = cinnamon raisin bread: each slice is about an inch thick: awesome!

Druid Circle oatmeal cookies are good too. And their Baklava selection box ain't great, but it's better than most I've found.
posted by forallmankind at 3:55 PM on December 8, 2007

My mom used to buy "egg-less egg salad." We're not vegans or anything, but it's really tasty and much healthier than the regular stuff.
posted by radioamy at 4:02 PM on December 8, 2007

frozen flatbread pizza with carmelized onions, ham, gruyere

...and creme fraiche. It's called Tarte d'Alsace, it's ridiculously calorific and pretty worth it.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 4:03 PM on December 8, 2007

Please, if you know what's good for you, avoid like the plague those damn Two/Three-Buck-Chuck wines. That crap's a big bottle o' headache.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:04 PM on December 8, 2007

Nthing their Greek yogurt; I always buy tons of it and eat it with honey and TJ's ginger granola (which has chunks of crystallized ginger in it).

Meatless meatballs
Dark chocolate almonds with sea salt
Dark chocolate-covered ginger
Nuts (their nut selection is outstanding)
Salsa with big chunks of garlic
posted by smich at 4:18 PM on December 8, 2007

Cilantro-Jalapeno Hummus. Previously together with Chili-Lime Tortilla Chips. My TJs at least no longer seems to carry those so I switched to broccoli/cauliflower/carrots for the hummus, and yeah, that stuff can make anything tasty.
posted by madmethods at 4:20 PM on December 8, 2007

Frozen Samosas
Frozen Coho Salmon
Frozen Seafood Blend (the Cioppino mix is great too, but the Seafood Blend is a better deal and you can surely DIY broth/sauce)
Sparkling Blueberry Cider
CROUTONS. best croutons anywhere. They come in a little transparent stand-up bag.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:30 PM on December 8, 2007


Two Buck Chuck!
You do not suck.
Snobs, Nabobs, are out of luck.
Your nose and clothes don't brush the muck
Of Franzia's vineyards, that corporate schmuck!

I know my shit, and I decline
To deem you more than merely fine,
But try and deny you as I dine,
I cannot do, you cheerful wine.

You come in four alleged flavors,
Woe betide he who follies; savors.
Your bouquet - a roll of pineapple lifesavers.
Your price is sweet and never wavers

Wine magazine has called you "plonk,"
You rock me like a bucking bronc,
I can love you and still be a wonk,
Airs of Trader Joe's, and Sauvingnon Blanc.

Two Buck Chuck!
You righteous tuck!
You look and sound and taste like a duck,
So though I know your boxed-wine, screw-top, ear jug, cheap-ass luck,
I just don't give a shitfaced fuck.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:34 PM on December 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

Frozen fish, sausage, the good cheese seems inexpensive and they have nice beer at a nice price.
posted by Iron Rat at 4:39 PM on December 8, 2007

Chimichurri rice is a great side dish (in the frozen section). I really like their fresh pico de gallo-type salsa -- it's really lime-y and cilantro-y. The masala-flavored papadum chips are great, too.
posted by chihiro at 4:45 PM on December 8, 2007

We love the cereal bars, especially the fig-flavored ones. Also the Mandarin Orange Chicken (in the frozen section), the oriental rice crackers, and they used to have really good prices on Cliff Bars (Sam's carries them now at a better per-bar price, but the selection is limited to 3 flavors). Their regular yogurt is great - we use it as a base culture for our own yogurtmaking.

On our last visit, we picked up some great Jasmine Green Tea.

Nthing the Honey Mango Cream Shave. Nthing their prices on good chocolate, for either eating or baking. Alas, the closest TJ's to us is in Atlanta, so we have to stock up on our return visits.

And two snaps up for the ode above -
Never deign to show thy love.
For when wine is cheap and thrills are base,
Sixteen bits will rock the place.

posted by jquinby at 4:47 PM on December 8, 2007

Bah. sorrh about the unclosed tag.
posted by jquinby at 4:52 PM on December 8, 2007

Green tea mochi ice cream balls, red pepper spread, teriyaki turkey jerky (very moist, low sodium, and such good flavor)
posted by HotPatatta at 4:52 PM on December 8, 2007

Mango chicken sausage
posted by HotPatatta at 4:53 PM on December 8, 2007

As others have said, your Trader Joe's shopping list will very much depend on what and how you like to cook (and if you like to cook). We don't shop at TJ's much anymore—it's across town, and I prefer to buy from a locally-owned grocery when possible—but when we did, this is what we bought almost every time:

• frozen chicken breasts
• frozen shrimp
• frozen green beans
• menage a trois (frozen chopped red, yellow, green peppers)
• peppered jumbo cashew nuts
• beer and wine
• coffee
• curious healthful juices

Then there's a host of convenience foods that aren't bad, if you're into that sort of thing. I'm talking frozen entrees, snacks hors d'oeuvres, and desserts, jars of simmer sauces, boxes of instant Indian meals, dried tortellini, etc.
posted by mumkin at 5:30 PM on December 8, 2007

Nice to hear Chapel Hill finally has a Trader Joe's.

My favorites:
Many kinds of bread (eat it quickly—no preservatives)
Hard cheese selection
Whole wheat naan
Cinnamon graham crackers
Strawberry mochi ice cream
Cream soda
Milk (no use of bovine hormones)
Frozen Indian / Thai meals

It has many of the same things that Wellspring/Whole Foods has, and some that it doesn't.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:40 PM on December 8, 2007

Most of my faves have been mentioned here, but I have to put in my votes.

-Indian food in the foil packet, especially Jaipur Veg
-frozen brown rice
-chile mango
-plain unsweetened grapefruit juice
-pomegranate salad
-the pesto/cream cheese/sundried tomato wheel, great for parties
-the dark chocolate & salt covered almonds, AMAZING
-meatless meatballs
-temptation trail mix (omg, so evil)
-pistachio toffee
-my sister says tsatsiki and 7 layer dip

My favorite thing to do at TJs, though, is to go to the new items shelf and just try new stuff. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I've never been to any other store where I had the same feeling of adventure and excitement about trying things I hadn't had. It's especially fun because so many of the clerks will comment that they've never seen a particular item before or tell you that if you liked one of the things you're buying, you should also try this or that other item.
posted by crinklebat at 6:04 PM on December 8, 2007

Their French Roast coffee is as good as anything else you can get easily, but at 1/3 the price.

Whenever I go, I have the list of things I buy every time, then I will shop around to try a few new things. My every time buys include:

Frozen chicken tamales
Frozen individual sized quiches
Middle Eastern Flat Bread
They have these pita-pizza things that last less than one day in our house
Greek Yogurt, the TJ brand is great
Soy Milk
Salsa Verde
Canned Marinara, whole wheat pasta
Chocolate chip mini cookies
chicken sausage
Frozen salmon patties
Couple of cheap bottles of wine. I am pro 2 buck chuck, it is absolutely drinkable, though obviously not the best thing in the world.
TJ Habanero sauce, it goes on everything.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:08 PM on December 8, 2007

flapjax@midnite turned me on to Shochu a while back and now they have it at TJ's. It's a rice liquor similar to vodka but a bit more mild and only 50 proof. It's delicious!
posted by snsranch at 6:25 PM on December 8, 2007

I'm a big fan of their black pepper covered cashews. Also the double rainbow ice cream they carry (particularly the vanilla) is divine. My favorite ice cream by far, it tastes like it's been made with cream. :)
posted by gleea at 7:12 PM on December 8, 2007

Oh yeah, crinklebat's comment reminds me that it's always good to get recommendations from the checkout clerks. They're usually pretty chatty and passionate about food and will comment on what you're buying. On several occasions a clerk has noticed something I'm buying and said, "If you like this, you'll probably like [item] too." And they're usually pretty spot-on.
posted by smich at 7:15 PM on December 8, 2007

Oh, yes. Yes yes yes. Trader Joe's is heaven.

I also enthusiastically endorse the Greek yogurt; I love the honey version the best. Try it with latkes or as a dipping sauce anywhere you'd normally use sour cream -- it's wonderful. All the flavors are good, really. (We like strawberry on strawberries, with a bit of chocolate too -- it's a nice light dessert.) And I'll put in my vote for chocolate chocolate-chip dunkers as well. They are perfect with strong coffee. They have cheap but very high quality olive oil so stock up on that too.

But here is the thing no one else has mentioned and that you must, must, must get. It is their wasabi mayonnaise.

I know, I know. It sounds foul, even if you don't normally hate mayonnaise as I do. But it is perfect. Insanely perfect. My favorite uses for it: cut a bit with soy sauce as a dip for endamame; as an alternative to horse radish or mayo on sandwiches, especially roast beef and turkey; and my absolute favorite, mixing a bit in with TJ's cocktail sauce as a dip for fresh shrimp and any fried fish, especially their own tilapia. Buy a case of it. People do it all the time, according to the nice TJ's employee to whom I felt compelled to spill my excited feelings about it. This same man told me they had once considered discontinuing it. I don't know what my face looked like at that moment but it wasn't pretty, because he actually patted me and said, "There, there."

Have a great time. If you react as I did, eventually you will have to move in order to live near one. It's well worth it.
posted by melissa may at 7:43 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

the sorbet! Particularly the coconut.
posted by RobotHeart at 7:56 PM on December 8, 2007

oh yessss. I loves me some Trader Joe's.

Crystal ginger
Chile spiced mango
TJ's branded Belgian chocolate bars
Organic boxed mac'n'cheese.
Smoked gouda cheese
Triple creme brie
Just about any of the frozen pastas
frozen chicken vindaloo bowl
frozen Thai masaman curry bowl

Peanut butter flavored dog biscuits w/glucosamine (I have a rather elderly dog, and this is the only way we can get her to take her vet-prescribed glucosamine)
posted by deadmessenger at 8:07 PM on December 8, 2007

When ever I go home to my Wisconsinese parents I buy two or three bottles of their orange blossom hand soap. It smells great and is so cheap.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:22 PM on December 8, 2007

Trader Joe's is absolutely wonderful. My favorite goodie items from them would be dairy products. I am sensitive to milk and they have this organic milk in a glass bottle sealed with buttermilk fat that is wonderful with cereal and strawberries...and I get no lactose intolerant symptoms! Their cheeses are great, however, they do go bad fast since some of them are fresh and all natural. My husband and I also love the box of New York cheesecake. It comes frozen and runs about $20-$25 a box and it is only about 10" in diameter, but it delicious with a bottle of white wine.

I say, the dairy, fruits, and nuts are the best things from Trader Joe's when considering the prices. Some are reasonable, but there are some, such as their meats and some snacks, that harbor too much on the "healty, organic, fresh" side for financial advertising.
posted by dnthomps at 9:03 PM on December 8, 2007

Lots of good suggestions in this thread, but I got only two words of one of the best items that have yet to make this list:

Pumpkin Butter.
posted by punkrockrat at 9:12 PM on December 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

The roasted nuts are pretty good (we like them better than what we find at Meijer or Whole Foods).

The Non-Crystalised Candied Ginger is a family favorite, and I've not been able to find it anywhere else.

The dried fruits and berries are good, although they usually get used for baking, not eating out of hand. The trail mixes are often good, always interesting.

The fig cereal bars are quite good. I like the dark chocolate caramels. Nobody in the house likes their boxed cereal.

I don't like their cheap wine. They do often have lambics or ales that I haven't seen anywhere else. Sometimes they're good, sometimes not, but they're usually worth a try.
posted by jlkr at 10:01 PM on December 8, 2007

I forgot to mention (and I can't believe no one else has yet) the corn dogs! They are meatless, but it actually took me a couple times to realize it, and they are also fairly low in fat. It's amazing.

Another thing I really like is the handmade corn tortillas, and they also have really great prices on my two favorite foods, artichokes and avocados.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:22 PM on December 8, 2007

Triple-ginger ginger snaps
Sesame-ginger salad dressing
frozen mushroom puff pastry triangles
chicken chile
cuban style black beans
posted by answergrape at 6:58 AM on December 9, 2007

I'll second wife is a complete freakazoid for the Pumpkin Butter. I also think the Trader Moon Old Vine Zinfandel is a good value (it's $7-$8/bottle here in Ohio)
posted by mmascolino at 7:53 AM on December 9, 2007

My one item is the blueberry ice cream.
posted by carsonb at 8:52 AM on December 9, 2007

I started shopping at TJ's a few years ago when we had the grocery store union strike, and I just never stopped. There are always new and interesting things to try.

As a new customer, I suggest *always* stopping by the demo table when you're in the store, you'll pick up good ideas.

I often buy prepared salads for lunch. I buy prepared foods from the frozen section when I am just too tired to cook, and usually have good luck. When I host gatherings at my house, I usually buy some prepared dips from the deli section. I've tried a lot of their dips, and have very rarely gone wrong.

Their wines are inexpensive enough that it's feasible to try different labels regularly. We've even done a couple of informal "tastings", comparing different labels of the same varieties.

And now I will share with you my two most favorite items:
1. Dark chocolate covered pretzels - so yummy that you can't stop at just a couple, but EVIL because they are so high in calories. I try not to buy these too often.

2. Carr's Lemon-Ginger cremes (cookies). By the same company that makes the water crackers, only much tastier.

posted by vignettist at 10:05 AM on December 9, 2007

I'm late to the party but I couldn't resist mentioning their Damn Good Chili mix. Amazing stuff.
posted by andythebean at 1:47 PM on December 9, 2007

Matcha Latte powder for smoothies.

Spicy chicken chorizo.

posted by activitystory at 1:49 PM on December 9, 2007


That stuff is the bomb.
posted by ph00dz at 4:09 PM on December 9, 2007

I'll second wife is a complete freakazoid for the Pumpkin Butter. I also think the Trader Moon Old Vine Zinfandel is a good value (it's $7-$8/bottle here in Ohio)

Ooops. It's actually called Old Moon Old Vine Zinfandel. Anyways, it is good.

Also, from what I can tell at the store, they are slowly phasing out the Pumpkin Butter for the season, so hurry up and stock up before it is gone.
posted by mmascolino at 5:36 PM on December 9, 2007

I am so, so excited for the TJ's in Chapel Hill. My Durham friend went there yesterday and emailed me immediately afterward with all the stuff she bought.

I saw Belizza Acai Sorbet at Trader Joe's once and it was one of the greatest things I've ever eaten. I haven't seen it recently, but I look for it every time I go and hope it comes back.

It's also my go-to store for "I have to bring food to a party and I don't feel like cooking anything." It's pretty easy to find something impressive and inexpensive.

Most people I know shop at TJ's mainly for inexpensive staples, but I go for the OMGSNACKS!!!
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:00 PM on December 9, 2007

Evidently the chocolate-covered cranberries are excellent, because I put some out at a party last night and every last cranberry disappeared. The beef and turkey frozen precooked meatballs are pretty good too.

10 am on a Tuesday is an excellent time to go to your new TJ's - I didn't have to wait for a cashier and there was room to move in the aisles :-)
posted by pinky at 7:45 PM on December 9, 2007

Their cheesecake is amazing; and their generic TJ brand beers are pretty damn good (and I'm a beer snob).
posted by keith0718 at 8:16 PM on December 9, 2007

If you food shop for a diabetic, use dairy products or eggs, like organic products and yummy pre-made salads, to name a few items I always buy, TJ's is your friend. Lessee: nonfat cottage cheese, nonfat plain yogurt, fat free milk, canned whipping cream, fat free half & half (!), eggs, cashews in whole or pieces, walnuts, almond flour, cinnamon, pre-made salads, provolone, their soy ginger salad dressing, soyaki marinade, bag of large cooked shrimp-tails off, non-sweetened applesauce, no-sugar-added jellies, bags of frozen fruit like strawberries, cherries and blueberries, tuna for cats, almond cereal bars, and Jameson's Irish whiskey, all of which cost a bit to a lot less than Lucky's, Safeway or the other markets in town make it worthwhile for me to stop in at TJ's every week.
posted by Lynsey at 9:53 PM on December 9, 2007

If I had to pick one thing I'd rather get there than anywhere else, it's the Low Acid French Roast coffee. A relationship saver. My partner has a tender tummy (and bouts of reflux) and I can't stand "medium bodied" blech. The low acid french roast tastes good and dark and rich, but doesn't burn his stomach lining up!

There are lots of other items I love, mostly items I either can't find elsewhere or can't find elsewhere at a comparable price. I get a variety of wines there, not just two-buck-chuck ($3.40 in Ohio), and have grown quite partial to the Old Moon Zin. The flax pastas are delicious. I like that the frozen stuff isn't overly "preservatived".

FYI: there are reviews on many of the products at
posted by foxydot at 7:39 AM on December 10, 2007

gr8 wine there for cheap
posted by frogger12 at 10:40 AM on December 10, 2007

I can't believe no one has mentioned the chocolate peanut butter cups. Those things are so freaking awesome that it takes massive willpower to not fill up my cart with tubs of them every time I go.

-hummus, baby carrots, middle eastern flatbread, great for snacking
-good selection of yummy cheeses
-another vote for Greek yogurt
-frozen shrimp, chicken breasts, and bags of stir-fry
- the $8 to $10 bottles of wine are usually very good value
-roasted, salted pistachios
posted by ambrosia at 11:07 AM on December 10, 2007

Seconding melissa may. Wasabi mayonaise. It is the awesome.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:25 AM on December 10, 2007

I love almost everything at Trader Joes, but my 2 favorites are the chunky spiced apples (it's the best applesauce in the world), and the chipotle hummus. Yum.
posted by somanyamys at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2007

Tuna curry in a pouch, available in red, green, and yellow. It's $1.29, add rice and you've got delicious lunch.

The frozen feta + caramelized onion bites, also. And the frozen gnocchi is surprisingly good & makes an easy weeknight dinner with almost no effort.

Nthing the honey mango shaving cream, but also plenty of other toiletries, some brand name (Tom's of Maine, Desert Essence, Comodynes), which are cheaper there than at my local grocery store.
posted by dizziest at 2:28 PM on December 10, 2007

i think most of these have been covered, but:

+ egg-white ranchero salad.
+ english muffin bread (yeah -- it's like a english muffin in loaf form)*
+ tj's cinnamon raisin bread
+ veggie corn dogs
+ cheap eggs.
+ inexpensive cheese
+ baked blue corn tortilla chips
+ tj's hummus.
+ wasabi mayo.
+ blister peanuts

gf's favorites:
+ pretzel loaf bread
+ no-pudge fudge (it's a low-fat fudge mix. you'll also need yogurt and milk)
+ tj's veggie egg rolls.

there's probably more, but that describes items i buy there on a regular basis. They also have good deals on vitamins and energy bar/drinks.

I do have to say that the one near my house absolutely sucks for milk -- the milk they have usually has a USE BY date less than a week after the present day, and we don't drink a lot of milk in my household. It is cheap, however.

* too awesome
posted by fishfucker at 3:52 PM on December 10, 2007

Things we have incorporated into our regular meal routine that come from TJ's:

Organic Greens with Envy - frozen mix of dark green veggies
Red Thai Curry Sauce
Frozen Roasted Corn
Frozen Mango Chunks
Greek Yogurt (less expensive than regular grocery store)
Just Enough Almonds (little packets of almonds for snacks)

I do buy milk, meats & eggs there if they look good.

Things we have purchased as special snacks/treats and enjoyed:

Thai lemongrass appetizer sticks
Ready to bake brownies
Ice Floe popsicles
posted by potterybliss at 12:44 PM on December 12, 2007

This is what I buy:

Nuts and dried fruit
Organic milk
Goat yogurt and goat milk
Steel-cut oatmeal
Mochi ice cream
Valrhona chocolate
Tofutti Cuties
Light coconut milk
King Arthur flour
Maple syrup
Stash Tea
La Brea Bakery bread (OK, maybe not in your town.)
Last-minute, easy-to-prepare meals (Like salads, frozen burritos, etc.)

...and as a bonus, TJ's in my neck of the woods is notoriously cruisy.
posted by vplane at 10:50 PM on December 13, 2007

Black pepper cashews
Simmer sauces (spinach, curry)
Tomato/roasted red pepper soup
Mini pitas
posted by mai at 10:55 AM on December 15, 2007

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