The Top 10 Foods at Trader Joe’s

When you think of Trader Joe’s, what comes to mind? They’re the anti-Mega-lo-mart. Perky check-out staff. The cloak of name brand secrecy. Handy paper bags if you forget your resusable ones. Two buck Chuck.

If you live in a location without a Trader Joe’s, you’ve probably heard stories of people traveling over 100 miles to go to the nearest one, or done so yourself. They have a unique business formula for the ultra-competitive grocery market that wins them enthusiastic customers.

We here at the PhD have been known to frequent TJ’s. And so we’d like to share our List of Top 10 Foods at Trader Joe’s.

10     Pork Shu Mai

porkshumaiBecause we believe that homemade tops frozen prepared almost every time, we’ll start with this delicious snack. Or, when you find you can’t stop eating them, this delicious meal. If you are in a real hurry, you can follow the microwave instructions, but this method causes the water to be released and makes the dumpling gummy as it sits in its hot bath. (Still, dunk it in your favorite soy or peanut sauce, and who will care?) We like ’em baked or pan fried for the added crunch.

9     Tamales


Another frozen package of deliciousness, the tamale, like the pasty, may be the most perfect package of food ever invented. Sooo good. Don’t eat the corn husk wrapper, though!

8     Masala Simmer Sauce



Connoisseurs of authentic (as opposed to British) Indian food may scoff, but this jar of sauce is an amazing flavor bomb for the North Indian curry of your choice. Chicken tikka? Yes, please!

7     Stone Ground Wheat Crackers


I hear you. “Um, a cracker…really?” Don’t judge. If you’ve never been frustrated by the search for the best delivery vehicle for your charcuterie board, dips, tapenade, and so on, then you can’t appreciate the golden mean that TJ’s has achieved with this cracker. No, it’s not perfect. But it’s got all the things you want in a cracker without being excessive in any category: flavor, texture, crunch, appearance. Plus, you’ll need lots of ’em for 6, 5, and 1 below…

6     Manchego


While all the cheeses at TJ’s are solid, the manchego is something special. Seriously, this is angel chorus stuff. A sheep’s milk cheese aged perfectly, hard yet buttery smooth, and the perfect accompaniment to your party spread.

5     Green Olive Tapenade


Wait, did I say angel chorus stuff? Put this tapenade on that list. Get your stone ground wheat crackers, plain bagel chips, or homemade toast points. Lots of ’em. You can’t stop eating this. You know you should, but you can’t. It’s that good.

4     Organic Free Range Chicken Broth


Didn’t see this one coming, did you? Yes, a broth. We like to cook here at the PhD, and a good broth can be hard to find (or make). This one has a nice balance of flavor, medium-low saltiness, and fat. This is our go-to broth for soups, stews, and sauces.

3     Homestyle Salsa Especial


I’m a late arrival to the salsa explosion in this country. Born too early, I guess. And probably in the wrong state. But word is that salsa is now the number one condiment in the U.S. If my job was eating salsa, TJ’s Homestyle Salsa Especial would be at the front of the salsa parade in no time. The package says “Medium,” but this stuff is HOT. Good hot, not hot hot. Enough to make the eyes water. But you don’t mind because it tastes so good. You know you need a glass of milk to turn down the heat smoldering in your mouth, but you don’t care. This salsa is a bit watery, but that’s tradeoff for fresh veg. It has a wonderful balance of vegetable, herb, and spice ingredients. Can you say “fresh cilantro?” Yes. I knew you could.

2     Pretzel Bagels


We now reach that part of the list where difficult decisions must be made. It was hard to not put these pretzel bagels at numero uno. We eat a lot of bagels in the mornings here at the PhD. I grew up eating the most perfect bagels I’ve ever encountered anywhere, anytime, at Clearwater Bagels. The store was always hot when they had the boil kettles going. Now, I’m very spoiled by those authentic homemade bagels, and as a result, have strong bagel opinions. The one thing I cannot stand in my bagels is a soft outer “covering.” Those things are just bread in the shape of a torus. And that’s usually what you get in grocery store “bagels.” No, a good bagel has to have a hard coating. How can you tell whether your bagel passes this test? Use a bagel guillotine. If the blade simply smashes the “bagel” into a useless doughball, it’s not a bagel; it’s bread. If, on the other hand, the bagel pushes back a little against the blade as you press down, and when cut holds its shape, you’ve got yourself a real one. TJ’s Pretzel Bagels have a delicious flavor, and the pretzely coating give them the right texture. Are they boiled, authentic-like? I don’t know. And I don’t want to know. Just keep ’em coming, yes?

1     Wild Nova Smoked Smoked Sockeye Salmon


The top slot goes to this holiday favorite. We put together a dizzying array of tapas for our Christmas Eve meal, and this smoked salmon has been the centerpiece for some years now. Cream cheese, capers, a little green onion if you like, and up you go into a heavenly flavor vortex.


I hope you enjoyed this little diversion from the usual fare served up around here (pun intended). There were some honorable mentions, like the hummus dip and the Cubano seasoned wrap. But we’d like to know your entries in the Trader Joe’s Top 10 List. Did we miss your favorite? Drop us a comment and we’ll keep the list going!