What to buy at Trader Joe's: The full guide to their food

Trader Joe's Loot

Trader Joe’s Loot

Although it’s been three years since I moved to California, I still wallow in the awesomeness of Trader Joe’s (TJ’s). Their business model of offering only private-branded food and beverage is unique, so you kind of have to test out the merchandise to see what your favorite items are. Not that this is grueling work. They sell an insanely varied line of foods (around 4,000 SKUs), from über gourmet chocolate to some of the best frozen foods you can find. Having the corner on each specialty item appears to be working for them.

Based in Monrovia, California outside of Los Angeles (but owned by a German company), TJ’s is privately held and the actual producers of their grocery items remain secret. This is a fantastic story from CNN.com highlighting Trader Joe’s success and reveals some of their inner sanctum. I know my friends in Tampa FL have been anxiously awaiting the opening of their first TJ’s, and I heard there was line snaking around the block when their doors finally unlocked. Wait no longer.

Although everyone will uncover their favorite TJ treats, this is the list of my best, go-to items. Have you discovered other TJ’s items you’d like to sing from on high? Let me know in the comments.

Find a Trader Joe’s near you

Produce Section
Their organic items aren’t sectioned off so you’ll need to be vigilant if organic is important to you. I do find, however, that their produce isn’t always super fresh (or sometimes under ripe) so there are only a few items I pick up in this area, mainly for the price:

Fresh fennel
Green onions
Organic bagged lettuce
Organic sweet peppers
Brussels sprouts

Frozen Section
This is where the convenience sets in. One thing I like about Trader Joe’s frozen items is the short ingredient list with things I can pronounce.

Chicken Tikka Masala
Gorgonzola gnocchi
Naan bread
Mahi Mahi fillets
Pork Shu Mai
Chicken curry

Condiments
These aisles are where you can save SUPER $$. Usually about $2-$3 cheaper at TJ’s than at the regular grocery store (based on California prices, which are obscene to begin with).

Aged balsamic vinegar
Organic canned tomatoes
Canned black beans
Capers
Dijon mustard
Extra virgin olive oil (the slightly more expensive “Reserve” line tastes the best)
Quinoa
Jasmine brown rice
Organic walnut halves

Other Grocery Sections
Plenty more to explore!

Dark chocolate peanut butter cups (warning: addictive)
Dark chocolate with almonds and toffee
Pre-cooked lentils (refrigerated section)
Cilantro and jalapeno hummus (refrigerated section – addictive)

Wine
Wish I could say Two Buck Chuck is worth the hype. It isn’t. I find it too sweet. But if you must, the reds are better than the whites. These wines are tried and true:

Incanto Chianti Classico Riserva
La Ferme Julien White Blend
La Ferme Julien Rosé

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