The Best and Worst Products at Trader Joe’s
The Best and Worst Products at Trader Joe’s
Russ Shelly of the review site What’s Good At Trader
Joe’s weighs in on 25 products
What’s good at Trader Joe’s? What’s not?
These are questions that
fans and detractors of the store are very passionate
about. Last August, Nathan Rodgers, his wife Sonia,
and their friend Russ Shelly and his wife Sandy decided to
systematically review every product to find out.
The team reviewed 75 products on their site, What’s Good at Trader
then rated them for The Daily Meal in five categories
(drinks, desserts, sauces and soups, international entrées, and
snacks), setting off a firestorm of comments from both
“TJ’s” fans and “Traitor Joe’s” haters.
“The frozen chocolate croissants from TJ’s are
amazing,” noted one. “I hate TJ’s produce,” said
another. “It tastes like science.”
The last laugh is on haters. Several confused readers wrote
requesting stores be built in Wilkes-Barre, Penn.; Memphis; Kansas
City; Dallas-Fort Worth; and the Pacific Northwest. And some of
these wishes may be fulfilled. According to Trader
Joe’s, stores are planned for Kansas City; Chicago
(South Loop); Leawood, Kan. Louisville; Mt. Pleasant, S.C.;
Pittsburgh; Spokane, Wash.; State College, Penn.; and Staten
10 Chain Restaurants Worth
With 2011’s midpoint nearing, it’s time to check in again
with the trio to get an update on the best and worst products. You
have to wonder, given the time they’ve spent in the store and
all the products they’ve considered, is there anything the
What’s Good at Trader Joe’s folks are scared to try?
“We don’t really have a top five list for what Nathan and I
are scared to try, but I can tell you our top scary items,”
“The Blueberry Vanilla Chèvre kinda scares me a little,”
Nathan admitted. “I’m down with goat cheese on salads and
sandwiches, but I’ve never thought of it as a dessert
“We’ve had fans swear by it, though,” said Russ.
“For me, the thought of trying any Trader Joe-brand sushi is a
kneeknocker. I’ve heard horror stories from sushi aficionados, and
the one time I’ve had sushi in my life, at a pretty respectable
restaurant, I wasn’t much of a fan. I can’t imagine the Trader
Joe’s sushi being worthwhile or remotely enjoyable.”
And with that, it’s time for some best-ofs. Below are Russ
Shelly’s picks in five new categories with his brief reviews
and ratings on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best), including a
category likely to stir things up: “Worst. Stuff.
Top 5 Vegetarian
1. Veggie Sausage Patties (9
I’m a meatatarian by nature and nurture, and sausage is by far one
of my favorites. These veggie patties come extremely close to
matching the real thing. If meat grew on a tree this is how it
2. Trader Jose’s Mildly Spiced Vegetable
Burritos (8.5 points)
I was amazed at how good these were. I love meat, and I love spicy,
but there’s something about these that make them surprisingly and
undeniably good. The burritos definitely have more of a kick than
3. Paneer Tikka Masala (8 points)
One of my wife’s favorites, and it’s up there for me too. The
masala sauce is intoxicating, and it ties together a very good,
somewhat off the beaten track microwave lunch.
4. Lentil Soup with Ancient Grains (8
This stuff seems straight from another time from another part of
the world. It’s thick and chunky and extremely filling. This ain’t
no canned soup. We make a beeline for it when shopping.
5. Apocryphal Pita and Roasted Garlic
Hummus (8 points)
Pitas and hummus make a classic vegetarian pairing, and this combo
should not be missed.
What Else is Good at Trader Joe’s?
Top 5 Breakfast
1. Organic Mango Passion Granola (10
Finally, a breakfast cereal worth waking up for. It actually puts a
smile on my face early in the morning and keeps me full until
lunch. The Mango Passion Granola truly has my respect.
2. Breakfast Scramble (8.5
Quick ‘n easy potatoes, onions and eggs, and shockingly good out of
a microwave. Tough to beat for a hot meal on a busy morning without
a drive-thru involved.
3. Frosted Maple and Brown Sugar Shredded Bite Size
Wheats (8.5 points)
A tasty twist on a cereal classic. The maple and brown sugar flavor
make for an easy morning for the taste buds and the biscuits are
crispy crunchy to the last spoonful.
4. Organic Lowfat Yogurt Wildberry Probiotic
Smoothie (8.5 points)
Quick and portable for a quick grab. They could be a little bigger,
especially if you wake with the hunger of a bear coming out of
hibernation, but for what they are, they’re pretty darn good.
5. Heart Healthy Whole Grain Blueberry Instant
Oatmeal (7.5 points)
Some mornings only oatmeal will do. Sorry Wilfred Brimley, this
stuff is tough to beat.
Trader Joe’s: The Good, the Bad, and the Dearly
1. Heat &
Eat Falafel: (9.5 points)
Ridiculously easy. Ridiculously satisfying. And ridiculously good
paired with some TJ’s hummus. They’re spicy, homey, and have
instant comfort. They’re restaurant quality for a fraction of the
2. Thai Joe’s Coconut Curry Chicken
Stix (8 points)
The stix are good enough to rival spring rolls at many Thai
restaurants. For being a one-trick pony, Thai Joe did pretty well
for himself here.
3. Parmesan Pastry Pups (7.5
Not a lot of Parmesan, but good pastry, and thankfully, no pups
involved. A good twist on the classic pig in a blanket, especially
since the mini-dogs are beef.
4. Scallop Bites (7 points)
More delishy than fishy. These certainly make a decent seafood
snack, and would be sure to please a crowd.
5. Mini Chicken Tacos (7 points)
A little plain, and not for those who are weirded out by miniature
foods. Still, a pretty good facsimile, however smaller, of a pretty
What Else is Good at Trader Joe’s?
Top 5 Biggest Winner Versus Expectation
1. Baker Josef’s Chocolate Cake and Frosting
Mixes (10 points)
Nathan and Sonia’s biggest pleasant surprise was the Baker
Josef’s Chocolate Cake and Frosting Mixes. Neither one of them
is really a “chocolate cake person,” but they might be if
all chocolate cakes tasted like this one.
2. Green Plant Green Food Beverage (6
Okay, it’s not highly rated, but it was definitely one of the
biggest pleasant surprises for me. It looked disgusting and I had
to swallow hard before trying it, but the green beverage actually
turned out to be fairly good overall. I definitely thought I’d
score it much lower.
3. Heart of Darkness Mango Passion Fruit
Blend (8 points)
After the very unsuccessful Organic Mango Nectar, we were a little
hesitant to try this one, but it’s really tasty. A bit oddly
inspired, to be sure.
4. Chicken & Cheese Tamales (8
Frozen microwavable tamales that actually taste good? That’s
possible? In a word, yes.
5. Omega Orange Carrot Juice (7.5
One of the most uniquely delicious tasting juices we’ve ever tried.
It’s so good, it doesn’t taste healthy.
Bottom 5: Worst.
1. Turkey “Meatloaf Muffins” (0
Easily one of the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth since
being old enough to know better. And that says a lot. To date,
still the only 0 we’ve ever granted. My wife Sandy was smart enough
to never even try them. I wish I was as wise.
2. Fat Free Spicy Black Bean Dip (2.5
If you like hummus-fied dark super vinegary matter, you’ll like
this. Not spicy at all and we cannot verify if there are really
black beans or anything other than vinegar in it.
3. Satay Peanut Sauce (3 points)
Tastes fishy. Literally. That’s not even close to what satay peanut
sauce is supposed to taste like.
4. Chile Spiced Mango (3 points)
Way too much chile and not enough mango. Flavor combinations can’t
be this one sided.
5. Trader Joe-San’s Green Beans (3
A little too out there texture-wise, and very inconsistent from one
bite to the next. Pretty bland as well.
These rankings set off
comments from fans and haters alike who weighed in
with their own picks. Favorites include nut mixes, dips and chips,
chocolate nut candies, soups, smoked fish, olives, pre-cooked
grains, and frozen food. Things that didn’t fare so well? Asian
food, cheese, and fish.
See the full list – and join the debate – at The Daily
– Arthur Bovino,
The Daily Meal
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