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New To Trader Joe's - Top Faves??? [Moved from General Topics board]

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Trader Joe's officially opens here in Charlotte NC this Friday and I'm giddy with anticipation. So chowhounders, tell me what are your favorite products please! I know I will go in there and will be completely overwhelmed and want to buy everything. I may need to medicate myself beforehand.

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  1. The bakery and dairy items will be provided locally.

    You will have to try bakery items yourself to see which you like and if they are fresh or not. The dairy items in Southern California are provided by a well knwn high end Dairy. If you have such a Dairy in your area and see 'fancy' yogurts, cream topped milk and such, it most likely will be provided by that place and at a substantially lower cost than elsewhere.

    1. We just love Trader Joe's. Try their mini beef tacos, four cheese pizza ,apple strudel, & lemon sorbet in lemon shells---all in the frozen section. Chocolate covered pretzels, gingerbread cake, preseasoned roast beef (just bake & serve) are really terrific.

      1. For frozen food, TJ's cioppino and tilapia fillets are very good.

        Their tiramisu is funny looking (it was obviously cranked out by a machine), but very tasty.

        I don't know about the NC TJ's, but the west coast stores have all sorts of fantastic beer and wine bargains. Sadly, the east coast ones -- the ones that are allowed to sell alcohol -- have narrower selections and higher prices.

        1. Nuts, dried fruit, wine is what TJs started out with and still does so well and cheaply. Also, the best deals on vitamins. In my experience, in TJs in a few regions, avoid produce unless you're desperate. Just tried the dried mango for the first time this week, and it's so amazingly delicious. I love the thai chili cashews. Another nut mix called something with "global" in it is addictive. They've got these big bars of chocolate that grace many a pantry. But everybody has their favorites, so you're smart to ask -- I grew up with TJs, but still taking suggestions.

          BTW, I save a lot of money by buying cat litter there ;)

          1. I forgot to mention coffee and tea. I do most of my shopping for coffee and tea at TJ's. TJ's coffees aren't up there with, say, Peet's or Terroir, but they're very good for the price. I love dark-roasted coffees, and TJ's "Ultra Roast" Sumatran is a mainstay of mine.

            1. I'm on the west coast but one thing I just tried recently that I love is the wasabi mayonaise. It's a perfect combination and they use enough wasabi (like horseradish) so that your nostrils burn - I love it!

              1. Welcome to TJ's....I hope you know this will become a lifelong addiction, right? ;) I love TJ's as it's a cheaper alternative to Whole Foods. It doesn't sell as much, but they make sure the quality of everything is good. That and they're always rotating stock, so it's always a surprise to see what they have in-store each week.

                I love their naan bread, lavash bread, pita breads, ready-to-eat dips (e.g. jalapeno hummus! Amazing!) cheeses, juices, Niman Ranch bacon (not sure if this is sold in NC -- I'm in CA), stroopwafel cookies, mochi ice cream, Tofutti ice cream sandwiches, frozen salmon burger patties, TJ's brand pretzel sticks, and on and on. I also like buying 2 buck Chuck to use for cooking. The 2 buck Cab is great for braising beef and lamb.

                4 Replies
                1. re: misswills

                  (Explaining) It is Charles Shaw brand Wines- Costs $1.99 in California and $2.99 in the other states- so "2 Buck Chuck" here and "3 Buck Chuck" there- if your store has the Alcohol/Beverage Control licensing. (I lived in Virginia for a few years; love those laws back East)

                  1. re: Cathy

                    That's right, I always forget Chuck costs a little bit more outside of CA! But it's still an excellent price and it sure beats using 'cooking wine'.

                    1. re: Cathy

                      Maybe I'm going crazy, but the last time I snagged it in New York I think it was 3.99. But that's New York, I suppose.

                    2. re: misswills

                      I'm in Michigan and we get the Niman Ranch bacon--BEST BACON EVER--so I imagine it will be in NC.

                      Other things I always buy at TJ's (if they have them--you'll find they are almost always out of something you go in for) are Fage yogurt, lemonade in the carton (no HFCS), goat cheese, tarte d'alsace "pizza", Poland Spring flavored carbonated water, cereals, organic milk, ice cream bonbons, cheesecake, organic rib eye steak, trail mix, gnocchi, organic wild frozen blueberries, chocolate truffles... that's it for now, I haven't had lunch yet and am making myself hungry!

                      I'm not fond of prepared foods, frozen bowls, produce, or most of their breads.

                    3. Be forewarned: Your first trip to TJ's will be confusing. Give yourself enough time to read the labels and get to know the store layout. Every TJ's is different. It's not like Whole Foods where you can find just about everything (produce and fresh meats are in small supply). But what you do find there will be substantially cheaper than WF and of as good or better quality.

                      TJ's excels at frozen and prepared goods. If it sounds good to you, it probably will be. We love the frozen gyoza, the Just Grilled Chicken (no fake smoke or other artificial flavors), the frozen fish are always very good quality. You can also get great deals on frozen organic berries, which we use in smoothies and as ice in certain drinks. Their cheeses are usually great at a great price. As mentioned above, the trail mixes and dried fruits are delicious. Dried pastas are cheap. Jarred sauces are really good - Thai Green Curry is a fave.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mojoeater

                        I'm addicted to the Flax Seed Tortilla chips. Low carb, good flax. Finally some crunch without the starch!

                        1. re: Jennalynn

                          Those are really good. I ate a whole bag with their spicy feta dip once.

                      2. I love that they make the majority their products without transfats or high fructose corn syrup. I love their quick meall options -- meats, marinated meat ready for grilling, precooked carnitas [just heat, add taco fixins' and eat]. Their name brand crackers, frozen meals [the gnocchi with tomato sauce is great], "deli" section stuffed bell peppers, lasagna, and hummus are constants in this household. Like the odwalla-like juice drinks. Also love the maple syrup, and the myriad of Organic products they offer here in California including raisins, trail mix, a ton of fresh produce, as well as milk [even in milk boxes for kids], butter, juice.

                        Awesome place to buy fresh flowers for your home or as a gift.

                        And I agree that it's not an easy place to look and pick things up quickly -- give yourself a good amount of time to scope out the landscape and read the descriptions posted by products.

                        Enjoy!

                        1. frozen pizza (all flavors) are great
                          I love the blistered peanuts - but can't buy them because I'd eat the whole container in one sitting.
                          I just found a really good whole wheat gnocchi there (at least I think it was TJ and not WF)
                          agree on the flax tortilla chips, plus their salsas are good
                          dijon mustard and "fake" mayonnaise are good
                          tomato corn chowder in a jar, in the soup aisle
                          the produce at TJ's is not my favorite, but pretty much all the packaged stuff is good.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: krez

                            The pizzas in the freezer case are indeed great - very possibly the best to be found in any market anywhere - but only the boxed ones imported from Italy under the "Trader Giotto's" label. The fresher-looking pizzas wrapped in cellophane in the refrigerated section are uniformly mediocre, at least from my experiences.

                            1. re: krez

                              Ah, almost forgot - frozen banana waffles!

                            2. The Trader Joe's brand Greek yogurt is pretty much exactly the same as the Fage stuff and is basically half the price. It's amazing.

                              1. I buy lots of frozen stuff: gnocchi with gorgonzola, barbecue chicken wings, veggie and turkey burgers, spinach pizza...also like their nut butters (cashew and macadamia are delish), wine and beer and spirits, which are usually cheaper than my other grocery stores, miniature pecan sandies, chocolate-covered pistachios and the basil ranch dip near the cheese; I put this stuff on everything. Have fun, enjoy your first trip!

                                1. If you like ginger you'll love the triple ginger snap cookies! The strawberry lemonade is perfect, not overly sweet & perfect for thirst quenching in the heat. The 2-buck chuck shiraz is better than many in the under $12 range.

                                  Only thing I haven't been thrilled with is the precooked chicken pieces, too salty.

                                  Still trying items since ours has been open less than a year. But it is a delicious weekly pilgrimage!

                                  1. I love the chocolate truffle brownie mix...makes the best brownies ever! Their cornbread mix is also fantastic. I also love their cranberry instant oatmeal and the frozen glazed matchstick carrots.

                                    1. too many to mention, very overwhelming. but dont miss:

                                      freeze dried exotic fruits
                                      naan breads
                                      lemon pasta
                                      greek yogurt
                                      joes o's cereal
                                      energy bar selection
                                      frozen calamari/mixed seafood
                                      tons of dried fruits
                                      spinach feta spanakopita frozen dinner
                                      and of course....the CHILE SPICED MANGO

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: yankeefan

                                        You will wonder how you ever did without Joe's. I agree with almost all the reco's above and will add the salted crunchy peanut butter. I have it in some way just about every day. Their own brand of Earl gray Tea is so much less expensive than the Big guys' and my husband loves their frozen berries. Oh, lest I forget, the edamame succotash is wonderful.

                                        1. re: lucyis

                                          Thanks to for your list of faves! I visited on opening day and it was a mad frenzy of transplanted west coasters... they were pumping their fists and cheering as they entered the store. I went in and looked around but didn't shop b/c the checkout line was running at about 35-40 mins. There was a car accident at the interesection there and they were literally running a shuttle bus from a distant parking lot b/c their parking lot was overwhelmed. Hilarious! Anyway, I returned the following morning and it was a bit better. I stocked up on many of the items recommended by chowhounders: Brie supreme (phenomenal), cheddar & bbq soy crisps, Salty, Sweet & Nuts trail mix (fabulous), Pasadena Pecans, hummus, tabouli salad, etc. Thanks to all of you for your help. I'm going back in a few days for another round. It's official, I"m addicted!

                                          1. re: lynnlato

                                            that is really funny! (as long as everybody was ok in the accident?) Yeah, those sweet and salty nuts are good, aren't they?! I forgot about them...

                                            There's another TJs thread on here that has much more negative comments, I'm wondering why the threads attracted such different responses -- but glad you're having fun hanging with the ex-west-coasters :) Some people just don't understand....

                                            1. re: mselectra

                                              If the Trader Joe's in Raleigh was the nirvana that it seems to be everywhere else, I'd probably feel differently about it. What I see, though, is a cramped store that rarely has that week's specials in stock. I keep wanting to like it and drop in every few weeks, but I guess I'll have to remain in the class of folks who just "don't understand".

                                      2. I have to add a couple new discoveries that are terrific:

                                        lemon paparadelle pasta
                                        tjs brand greek yogurt
                                        jambalaya mix

                                        1. The freeze dried pineapple. Can't find it anywhere else, it's a great snack to sneak into a movie. Speaking of which, their bagged popcorn is almost magically good given the awful reputation pre-popped pop corn has earned itself over the years.

                                          1. A list from the West Coast...

                                            Organic granny apple granola
                                            Frozen edamame beans (super easy healthy snack)
                                            Belgian Profiteroles
                                            Chicken gyozas/potstickers - they weren't available for a while but now they are back!!!!!!!!
                                            Black olive tapenade (mix with little chili pepper & olive oil)
                                            Wine
                                            Flowers
                                            Bunch of other stuff already mentioned on this thread.

                                            Also, once when I was trying out a new dish for dinner, my daughter asked if it was the Trader Joe's sample that day:-) She knows too well...

                                            1. Don't know how much of these are repeats, but...

                                              Feta and Carmelized Onion Bites (wrapped in phyllo; in frozen section)... soooo good
                                              Fried Cod Sticks
                                              Snapea Crisps
                                              Tapioca Pudding
                                              Mushroom Risotto (fridge section)
                                              Chicken Salad w/ Cranberries
                                              Orange Chicken
                                              Cheese Enchiladas in the plastic container, not the green wrapper
                                              Mac'n'Cheese
                                              Chocolate Truffles
                                              Baklava
                                              Caneles
                                              Challah
                                              Chicken Sausage w/ Asiago and Mushrooms
                                              Roasted Vegetables w/ Balsamic (frozen)
                                              Roasted Corn
                                              Chocolate Gateau
                                              NY Cheesecake (blue box)
                                              Cinnamon Rolls (2 in a plastic box)
                                              Roasted Corn and Red Pepper Soup
                                              Jams... Blackberry, Blueberry, Apricot
                                              Pumpkin Butter (in season)
                                              Pecan Pralines
                                              Fresh Mozzarella Log
                                              Soy Cheddar/Jack Cheese Mix
                                              Zen Bakery Fibercakes
                                              Zen Bakery Cinnamon Rolls
                                              Garlic Asiago Bread
                                              Chocolate Caramel Tartlets
                                              Vanilla Jo-Jo's and Peppermint when in season
                                              Fage 0%
                                              Hi-Lo Protein Cereal
                                              Barbara's Puffins
                                              Multi-Grain Oats
                                              Mintz's Blintzes
                                              Van's Whole Grain Waffles
                                              Frozen French Toast
                                              14 Karat Cake
                                              Mochi Ice Cream
                                              Double Rainbow Blueberry and Vanilla
                                              BBQ Chicken in the tub in the fridge section
                                              Mini or regular sized PB cups
                                              Eggplant Parmesan in fridge section
                                              Spinach Potato Frittata
                                              Jarlsberg

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Emme

                                                okay, I hope you don't take offense but you need an intervention, sister... whoa! That is some list my friend! I'm just teasing... it's only been a few wks since it opened and I'm already addicted. Some people shop for shoes & purses... I go to Trader Joes now. Hi my name is jessica and I'm a functional food-aholic!

                                              2. Oh! The burgers are great. And the blood orange soda is wonderful. No HFCS! The only thing I ever hated there was the frozen MahiMahi. Tasted like cat food, but I got it for spare change, so. Alls fair, I suppose.

                                                1. Chocolate coated orange stix candy.

                                                  1. Chocolate-coated almonds dusted in cocoa powder
                                                    TJ's Mediterranean-style cheese yogurt (labneh)
                                                    Roasted pistachios with 50% salt

                                                    Top the labneh with honey and shelled chopped pistachios.

                                                    1. Made a trip there this weekend. Got my Fage yogurt, sea salt and pepper grinders ( love them- less than $2.00 each). Got the tomato/pepper soup, the carrot ginger soup and the butternut squash soup. Also picked up some vanilla, crackers, grapeseed oil, and cheese. Got the fish sticks- they are really good- I was so surprised the first time I tried them. Each time I go there, I love to try a new frozen dessert and frozen appetizer. This time I picked up their apricot Tart ( advertised in the flyer), and some frozen cocanut shrimp. hope they are good.

                                                      1. How has no one mentioned the tofu?! It's the best I've ever had and it's usually only $0.99!