Please don't pounce on me! I know there are lots of threads, and I regularly read the quarterly yays [Trader Joe's]
and nays, but what would you choose first at Trader Joe's? We have a new TJs opening in Fort Worth in two weeks -- and many of us are eagerly awaiting its arrival. Many of you have a great deal of experience shopping at TJs, but many of us here, including me, have never even been inside one.
Armed with your experience, if you had a TJs opening in your area, what would be your first choices, your must-haves, on Day One?
Thanks from all of us who look forward to your responses.
Here's a list of my favorites that I buy regularly...
Maple Pecan Granola "Just the Clusters" Cereal (we tried this recently and are hooked!)
Tuscan Pane Bread (refrigerate the day after buying to prolong shelf life)
Applegate Farms Nitrate Free Roasted Turkey Breast/Turkey Bologna/Slow Cooked Ham
1/2 Gallon rBST-free Whole Milk
Apricot Mango Greek Yogurt (full fat)
Original Lemonade in the carton - refrigerator section (seasonal)
Yellowfin Tuna in Olive Oil (out of this world!)
Organic Tomato Basil Marinara
Capellini Pasta imported from Italy
Parmesan Romano Cheese in the green can (I know, not freshly grated but we love this stuff)
Chicken Tikka Masala
Crispy Oatmeal Cookies in the tub
Lime Fruit Floes
Heirloom Oranges (seasonal)
.99 cents Greetings Cards
Villa Italia Italian Blood Orange Soda
TJ's Vintage Cola and Rootbeer in the glass bottles
Social Snackers Crackers
Everything Bagel Chips
Organic Corn Chips
Peppermint Joe Joes (seasonal)
Peppermint Pretzel Slims (seasonal)
There are many more products that we buy from there but these are the ones we buy often!
Tarte d'Alsace (pizza-like item with Gruyere cheese + ham)
Frozen mini croissants and chocolate croissants
Almond Windmill Cookies
Orange Blossom Hand Soap
Valrhona chocolate bars
Milk, butter, cream (though these are regional; I used to get a wonderful, thicker-than-normal, heavy cream in SoCal, which I can't get in NorCal)
I often leave TJ's with two full shopping bags, so it isn't about what I'd get first. It depends on what I happen to need just then.
The first thing to buy is a couple of shopping bags that are made to last. TJ's sells them, some as cheaply as 99¢, so you don't wind up with a lot of paper or plastic shopping bags to dispose of - and when you bring your bags to the store, TJ's gives you a raffle ticket on which you can write contact information in case you win. I haven't won yet, but I like the spirit.
Nearly everything I eat comes from TJ's. Breakfast: cereal (Joe's O's, raisin bran), milk, orange juice, eggs, uncured bacon, British muffins as they call them, butter, marmalade or jam, etc. Lunch: any of the boxed soups (they're all good), instant miso soup, their high fiber whole wheat or multigrain bread, sliced smoked gouda cheese and other sandwich makings, organic apple sauce. Supper: various kinds of fried rice and potstickers, frozen salmon and other fish, basmati or jasmine brown rice plus one of the Indian Fare sauces, any of their chicken, turkey, or beef sausages, frozen individual vegetables or medleys, Others here have told you about their sweets.
One department that often gets mixed reviews is fresh produce. Personally, I've been happy with the carrots, celery, sweet peppers, brussels sprouts, and other veg I buy there, but they may not look as pretty as in the supermarkets or last as long. I've read that this is because they're pesticide free and not treated with preservatives - quite a few are organic - and so their shelf life is not so long.
Also, TJ's has been getting more into microwaveable prepared dishes and meals, and these have gotten some discouraging reviews. I don't use them because I've never had a microwave oven, so don't have an opinion of my own. The prepped foods I buy are for the stovetop or the conventional oven, and here TJ has seldom disappointed me.
My suggestion, then, is the first time you shop at TJ, buy what you need and what looks good. That would give you a sampling of the foods and dishes you normally eat, and you'd have a basis for comparison. But also branch out into cuisines you aren't used to serving at home, such as Chinese, Indian, Mexican, whatever. TJ sources many such products in the countries where they are native, and you may surprise yourself at what you can put on the table after just heating it up.
I don't generally buy prepared foods, and avoid buying snacks and sweets (for my own good), but there are things I buy there quite regularly because the quality and price are excellent relative to the other places I shop.
Calfornia Estate Olive Oil
plain bittersweet chocolate
sardines in olive oil
grade B maple syrup
frozen artichoke hearts
multigrain English muffins (whole grain, fairly high in fiber and protein)
I'm not a big buyer of prepped produce, but I like the bags of organic broccoli slaw and the Healthy 8 medley (big downside - for me - to this is its nonreyclable plastic container) for when I'm short on time and/or energy, times when I can't face much dinner prep. Guarantees I'll get a nice, big serving of veggies with little effort.
Frozen garlic cubes (each cube = 1 clove of garlic)
Canned artichoke hearts
Individually bagged cashew nuts (for pre-portioned snacks)
Their large peanuts which have a name that I do not remember
Heavy cream (higher butterfat content than supermarkets)
Frozen croissants + frozen chocolate croissants
Frozen mango pieces (for smoothies)
Wine Wine Wine
Jarred kalamata olives, pitted
One of the nice aspects of TJs is their return policy - they'll take it back, no questions asked.
I don't buy their packaged combos or ready-made meals, so cannot comment on them. Why someone would buy pre-cooked rice is beyond my ken.
Dairy and eggs are better/cheaper than the super's.
Chocolate Bars (3 pack at the checkstand) are excellent value/flavor.
Jarred pasta sauces are better than most--for a $1.79 jar of sauce and $0.99 bag of pasta it is a cheap dinner for 2-4.
Lettuce is always cheaper than supers. Tomatoes are inconsistent. Peppers are ok.
My always purchases/always in the house:
1/2 & 1/2
Caesar Salad w/Chicken
Dark Choc Bars
Dark Choc Mints
Jack/Colby Cheese Slices
Columbo Low[er] Sodium Hard Salami [$2 less than super's].
Tomato Basil Sauce
Bread & Butter Pickles
Tuna in Olive Oil
White Bread (it WILL be moldy 1 day after the sell-by date)
Joes O's (Spaghetti O's)
Never [as in NFW] purchase again:
Fresh Pasta w/Prosciutto
Hot Dogs (the new ones, meh!)
I started off with Hellman's (in the 1970s) because some guru or other recommended it over Kraft, and stuck with it for a long time. But I've branched out in recent years, starting the Mexican style with lime juice. Now I only buy Hellman's if I find it on sale at Grocery Outlet. Western Family (generic) is just as good in my estimation.
TJ's tastes fine, but isn't quite as stiff.
Mention MW (the other salad dressing), you'll find that tastes for mayo and its substitutes are highly idiosyncratic. People tend to latch on to a particular balance of sweet, sour, saltiness, oil, and egginess, and structure their dogmatic opinions around that.
Generally, TJ's is best at things like nuts, cheese and wine. They also have some very good frozen prepared items and their dairy products and eggs are very well priced. Here's a couple of links you might enjoy: http://www.clubtraderjoes.com and http://traderjoeswine.blogspot.com/
OMG the frozen mac and CHEESE. My 3 year old can eat an entire box of it, it's that good. Even the "light" (which isn't very) is good. I also really like the mushroom fettucini (frozen) and the previously mentioned haricot verts.
The trail mix section bears review, as they have some unique/interesting flavors, like lime-chili cashews or what have you.
The mini oatmeal cookies are delish. The ginger snaps are amazeballs.
So many "don'ts" as well, be sure to look through the thread on there. Everyone's taste varies.
I don't see this mentioned ever but I love TJ's Buttermilk Pancake & Baking mix. I'm generally a "from scratch" baker but this mix makes excellent tasting pancakes, I like them better than my own from scratch. And I don't even make them with the box recipe which says to add eggs and water. I just add skim milk to the mix. If you know anyone who can't eat eggs this mix works great without them. I used to use eggs then one day I didn't have any so I thought I would try it with just milk and I liked it a lot better.
My staples from TJ include:
eggs, buttermilk, cream, flour, bread, flour tortillas, dark chocolate, canned beans, frozen vegetables, dog treats. Most of these aren't unique, but the price is better than the regular groceries.
Most of the yeas/nays are for the ready to eat items. They excite people, but I haven't had much luck with them.
Peppergal - you can hit the report button on your original post and ask the moderators to edit it to include "Trader Joe" in the title:-)
California Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Apple smoked bacon
Kerrygold butter - way cheaper at TJ's
Meyer Lemon Thins
21 Salute herb seasoning mix
chicken rawhides for my doggy
Enjoy your new store!
My TJ's staples are peanut and almond butter, aged gouda, string cheese, eggs, frozen haricots verts, frozen edamame, frozen dorot herbs, dried fruit, nuts, grape tomatoes, kumatos, celery hearts, mini Persian cucumbers and hearts of romaine. These are all less expensive at TJ's than the others stores in my 'hood, and usually higher quality.
My TJ's splurges are triple ginger cookies, frozen mini croissants, journey to the center of the cookie (frozen chocolate chip cookies with melted chocolate center), Caribbean fruit floe popsicles, refrigerated pizza dough, and cheese puffs.
TJ's is also my source for cut flowers and occasional house plants.
You all are wonderful! Thanks so much for these awesome suggestions! Really, really appreciate them. I'm sure it will be crazy the first couple of weeks, and walking into the store and having no idea which way to turn or what to look for would be daunting, to say the least, without your help.
All other hints are very welcome and appreciated.
How do TJ's wine prices compare to Costco's?
Trader Joe's wine strategy is completely different from Costco's. Costco has a pretty consistent selection with recognizable brands at good prices. But they don't really offer a lot of super-low priced bargains or "finds".
Trader Joe's has a lot of low-priced wines, which can range from bad to a great surprise for the price. Let's say under $10 for an example. You have to be willing to experiment a little.
For both stores selection and pricing vary by region. Trader Joe's encourages their employees to engage with customers, so get to know the wine staff at your store, they will let you know what's good.
There are several people who blog about TJ's wine. Here is one example:
Highbrow chocolate chip cookies, the butter cookies with fruit topping (don't remember what they're called), chocolate covered anything but especially the blueberries, the dark chocolate caramels, canned chicken chili, trail mix, truffle brownie mix (I think they only have this in the winter months for some reason), their shampoos which don't contain sodium laurel sulfates, fresh stuffed chicken breasts, frozen Mexican food (for a Texan it may not be up to snuff but it's pretty decent), frozen three-cheese pizza, frozen Chinese dumplings, pimiento cheese spread.
As you'll notice from my list, I mostly use TJ's for pantry and freezer items along with chocolates and cookies. I'm not a big fan of their breads or produce.
We also love the nuts, dried fruits and vacuum fried bananas.
I never leave TJ!s without a bunch of those 19¢ bananas either.
The ice creams are all good.
The tubs of cookies are usually good, especialially the chocolate chip oatmeal and the vanilla wafers.
I cannot live without Soyaki marinade. We keep a spare bottle in the basement for emergencies, (Seiouslly.)
Midnight Moo chocolate syrup is delicious in coffee or on ice cream. Fleur de Sel caramel syrup is heavenly on their French vanilla ice cream.
The breakfast bars "this blueberry walks into a bar" are exact replicas of the nutragrain cereal bars. Rolled oats & peanut butter fiberful bars are filling and give you a candy like snack for 135 calories per bar.
I love love love the All Fruit Bars ends & pieces. 100% fruit leather that is sold for cheap because it's not in perfect sized pieces.
If you can find the sea salt and turbinado sugar dark chocolate almonds, get them They've also got caramel squares covered in dark chocolate that are heavenly. (The shaving lotion is awesome too.)
I could go on and on. Love me some TJ's.
If you like Indian food, I recommend the frozen naan bread and I also like the frozen lamb vindaloo and butter chicken. Not much meat but tasty sauce and a decent enough work lunch.
Their prices on goat cheese logs cannot be beaten, and rice as well is about the cheapest I've found unless you buy massive bags at Costco or Asian markets.
Second carolinadawg re: wine, esp prosecco or German Sekt, and when they have it, viognier.
Every once in a while I get sucked in by trail mix or chili lime nuts...or chocolate pretzels. This is the category known as "TJ crack".
My advice: don't go in until they've been open a couple of weeks because it will be madness. Then just wander around for a bit. Then, grasshopper, you will be ready to shop
re: coney with everything
RE: "TJ Crack"
I haven't been to one in a while, since I moved and now have quite a long drive to get to one. But when I was shopping there regularly, no matter how much I swore I wouldn't, I always left with a carton of the dark chocolate edamame. Man, I could polish off those little tubs in a matter of days, and that was with restraint! Talk about addictive!
another vote for the wine, with a caveat. if you don't know the good from the bad, ask whomever handles the department to guide you to some tasty bottles - they do carry some good wines at great prices, but they also stock a fair bit of plonk.
- bags of nuts, seeds and dried fruit
- organic almond butter
- Pound Plus chocolate bars
- canned beans, sardines, tuna & salmon (BPA-free cans!)
- bagged teas
- dark chocolate-covered ginger
- plain kefir
- kumatos (brown tomatoes)
- white balsamic vinegar
- organic lemons & limes
Mom & Sis absolutely love:
- the Fillo Factory frozen spinach pie (not the individual spanakopita triangles)
- frozen Kobe burgers
- dark chocolate mint creams
- Highbrow chocolate chip cookies
- Cinnamon Roll Bread (not cinnamon swirl, cinnamon ROLL)
- Balade light butter with sea salt
i know there are more, but those are some of the highlights in our house...and if you're a dog family i can recommend some treats.
GHG, I know you are one of the experts here on TJ's items and I saw in this thread that you like the bagged teas. Which kinds do you purchase, and if you have tried the green teas which is best? I have tried the English Breakfast (it's pretty good) which I am working my way through now. Also, any teas to avoid in particular? Thanks in advance.
i like their decaf green, organic green, jasmine green, peppermint, and Irish breakfast. and if you like yerba maté, they sell the Guayakí for a really good price. i don't really do sweeter flavored tea, but my sis likes the decaf candy cane green and the organic ginger pear white. i'm also a big fan of the ginger Yogi Tea - again, a better price at TJ's than other places.
i don't recall ever having a bad experience with their teas. the coffee, however, is another story ;)
The precooked grilled chicken strips from the frozen aisle. You will never come home from work late and wonder what's for dinner again. Just nuke them, spread some refried beans on a tortilla, fold up with the chicken, and eat.
Also agree with the wine rec--that is a real bargain, as is the beer.
Wine, assuming Texas allows TJ's to sell it. To me, thats the best, most high value item in the store. The prices are amazing, $4 to $7 a bottle for very drinkable, good wine. Nero D'avola, Aglianico, Vinho Verde, Prosecco. (edit: avoid the "2 buck chuck")
Other choices: saffron, fresh flowers, guacamole "kit", whatever snack/cookie item currently on special...