Quirky Trader Joe’s has amassed a following among grocery shoppers who appreciate its unique offerings, low prices, and emphasis on natural and organic goods. There also always seems to be something new every season. But newbies may not know where to start. Here are more than two dozen can’t-miss customer favorites to throw in a cart on the next TJ’s run.
Note: Prices and availability are subject to change.
Speculoos Cookie Butter
This is how big Trader Joe’s cookie butter is: BuzzFeed’s video of people tasting it for the first time has amassed more than 2 million views. "You could put this on my ex-boyfriend and it would make him better," one tester proclaims. The gingerbread-like spread can be slathered on everything from apple slices to bagels. Yes, please.
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Gnocchi al Gorgonzola
These fluffy gnocchi filled with a gorgonzola sauce are this author’s favorite, and one of the best bets in the frozen food aisle. But don’t take my word for it: Reviewers at TraderJoesFan.com also give it plenty of love. It’s super-easy to prepare: Just toss it in a pan with a little oil, stirring occasionally for about seven minutes. Then try not to eat the whole package yourself.
Mandarin Orange Chicken
This frozen dish, a store staple since 2004, regularly beats out the rest of Trader Joe’s extensive lineup to be shoppers’ favorite overall product for in the grocer’s customer choice awards. For a true takeout-like experience, TJ’s recommends putting the thawed sauce in a hot pan instead of a microwave before tossing in the baked chicken. Yum.
Trader Joe’s famous spiced cider is usually around only while it’s cold out, but Influenster reviewers say this seasonal treat is worth the wait. "This is delicious cold, but I love to simmer it on the stove with cinnamon sticks, lemon rind, and fresh cranberries for a festive treat," one devotee says. "Bonus points if you add in a shot of bourbon or whiskey to keep you extra warm."
Italian Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This organic olive oil (not to be confused with its non-organic counterpart) punches far above its weight. Experts at The Tasting Table say it’s one of their favorite store-bought olive oils, beating out several name brands that are double the price. TJ’s puts it among its "fruity and fresh" varieties, with a peppery pungency that will elevate almost any dish.
French Vanilla Ice Cream
Who needs name-brand ice cream when there’s Trader Joe’s? That’s the consensus of several expert taste testers, including our own. Setting the flavor apart from the competition: A custardy texture that makes for a richer taste and feel. TJ’s also brags that it actually still sells half-gallons of this stuff for the price, while other manufacturers have shrunk their containers.
Pork Gyoza Potstickers
Serious Eats says Trader Joe’s potstickers are "the only one we’d stock in our home freezers" of the store brands they tried, and The Daily Meal says they’re No. 1 among TJ’s appetizers. To fancy things up a bit, try TJ’s recipe for potsticker soup — you’ll need some chicken broth, baby spinach, soy sauce, and a mirepoix, among other ingredients.
Yes, this is the infamous "Two Buck Chuck." And no, it’s no longer two bucks. Still, Charles Shaw remains one of the best wines at a cheaper-than-cheap price point. A sommelier even gives the merlot, shiraz, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon respectable reviews during a taste test (you may want to steer clear of the white zinfandel, though).
What’s so unexpected about this unassuming block of cheese? Perhaps the fact that it marries the goodness of cheddar with hints of parmesan. Or perhaps the love it inspires among food writers and customers. Today calls it a "knock-it-out-of-park pick for any cheese plate," and shoppers rate it their favorite cheese in the chain’s recent customer choice awards.
Sublime Ice Cream Sandwiches
Another author’s favorite here. These things are just decadent: Creamy vanilla ice cream is sandwiched between chocolate chip cookies, and then more — lots more — chocolate chips are sprinkled along the side. These frozen treats also made the list of TJ’s top 50 products of all time, released for the grocer’s 50th anniversary.
Curious about how Trader Joe’s sandwiches stack up against other brands? Check out our ice cream sandwich taste test.
Put it in a taco, chili, or frittata — really, it can go in anything. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or just trying to cut back on red meat, customers say the Soy Chorizo is king of meat and meat-alternative products at TJ’s. "Will I buy it again? Absofreakinlutely," raves the Exploring Trader Joe’s fan site. "Top Ten item and one that I plan to keep on hand as a staple all the time."
Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate
Adding water or milk to this Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate yields a more refreshing way to get a java buzz, and a 32-ounce bottle yields about three times that in drinkable beverages. Influenster reviewers are fans of the price — it’s way cheaper than a lot of the competition — and the taste.
Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
This sweet treat shows up as a favorite on TJ’s most recent customer choice awards and its list of 50 all-time favorites. It even merits the No. 1 spot in a taste test that pits store brands against Reese’s. What makes them so good? TJ’s says it’s actually what’s not in them: artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
Green Dragon Hot Sauce
Another staple that shows up on current and all-time favorite lists, this hot sauce is set apart from the competition, devotees say, by the fact it’s so well-balanced. "It’s not just heat and nothing else," says fan blog What’s Good at Trader Joe’s. "There’s plenty of roasted sweetness from tomatillos with some added flavor depth from lime juice and garlic … and cilantro to add a herby twist."
Coconut Body Butter
Trader Joe’s has a more limited selection of toiletries and household goods than some shoppers may be used to. But one standout in that aisle, shoppers say, is the lightly scented Coconut Body Butter. Aside from pure coconut oil, other skin-pampering ingredients include vitamin E, aloe vera, and shea butter. "This stuff is magic," one Influenster reviewer raves. "This cream is thick, rich … and comes at a steal of a price."
Brewed Ginger Beer
Another beverage that made TJ’s all-time and recent customer favorites list, this ginger beer with hints of lemon and lime is non-alcoholic — but much more intense than the average ginger ale, reviewers caution. (TJ’s fan blog Eating at Joe’s calls it "the whiskey of the soda world," made for sipping rather than guzzling). True ginger lovers can look for the seasonal Triple Ginger Brew, an even more intense concoction, during the holidays.
Just Mango Slices
This longtime customer favorite is as simple as it sounds: a bag of dried mango slices, and that’s it. There are no artificial flavors, preservatives, or other junk, and fans like it that way. Influenster reviewers say this simple treat is healthier than most, affordable, and most importantly, tasty: "They’re sugary sweet with tons of fresh mango flavor," one devotee says. "The texture is even better than other dried mangos."
Black Bean and Cheese Burrito
Looking for a cheap, filling meal that’s easy to eat on the go or during a quick lunch break? Try the Black Bean and Jack Cheese Burrito, available with other prepared foods in the refrigerated section. These 10-ounce burritos are easy to zap in the microwave and top with a favorite salsa. Freezer Meal Frenzy calls these "about as basic as it gets, but by no means is that a bad thing. In fact, this burrito is fantastic."
Speaking of salsa, TJ’s makes some of the best cheap stuff you can buy, according to Cheapism testers. Its Chunky Salsa "is bright with tomato acidity and spicy but not too hot." If you’re in the mood for something less mainstream, there are other varieties on the shelf, including a well-regarded tomato-free corn and chile salsa and an uber-hot habanero ghost pepper salsa.
Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
There should be some delicious chips to soak up some of that salsa. Our taste testers give two thumbs-up to TJ’s Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips, calling them surprisingly flaky and light, unlike other blue corn chips that can be heavy and grainy. These chips get a mention on several fan blogs as among the best of TJ’s chip options, too. (Don’t confuse them with the Organic Stone Ground Blue Corn Tortilla Chips, which are thicker and intentionally grainier, as they feature amaranth, quinoa, and chia seeds.)
If you’re the type of person who always puts your chocolate in the freezer, this might be the treat for you. TJ’s frozen, chocolate-dipped banana pieces are simple but toothsome customer favorite, and since there’s fruit inside, they can’t be that bad for you … right?
This stuff is good, but don’t take our word for it. Cauliflower gnocchi has been voted TJ’s best vegetarian or vegan item, and it falls just short of the crown for best overall item and best entree. Sautee them with olive oil or butter, and you may even forget you’re eating your veggies.
Ketchup-Flavored Spud Crunchies
Canada has long had ketchup chips, and Trader Joe’s answer to this north-of-the-border flavor is the eponymous Ketchup-Flavored Spud Crunchies. Skeptical? Consider this near-perfect review from What’s Good at Trader Joe’s: "I don’t know why I don’t like ketchup, and after having about half the bag of these stick shape snacks, I still couldn’t tell you. These are great."