I asked Trader Joe's employees at my local store for their recommendations and then tried them.
I loved Trader Joe's rolled tortilla chips in chili and lime, vegan tzatziki, and apple blossoms.
I would not repurchase the hatch-chile mac and cheese, which let me down a little.
I asked staff at my local Trader Joe's in Sacramento to recommend the items they can't get enough of lately.
Trader Joe's has thousands of products, some so well-loved they've developed a cult following — hello, Mandarin orange chicken! But it can be a bit daunting to branch out and try new things since the chain is constantly rotating in new products.
Even as someone who has reviewed hundreds of Trader Joe's foods, I know there are many I've missed along the way.
So I asked the Trader Joe's crew at my local Sacramento location to recommend their favorite products to me. They get to sample all new products, so if anyone knows what's good, it's them.
I bought their recommendations and tried them — here's how it went.
One employee called the quinoa-and-black-bean-infused tortilla chips sturdy and tasty.
Recommendation: "The black-bean-and-quinoa base in these chips gives them a neutral flavor that pairs well with a variety of dips. I really love them because they're extra sturdy. They even hold up under the super-chunky salsas."
The only section in Trader Joe's I find intimidating is the chip aisle because its many options. So I was delighted when a longtime crew member from my local store told me their go-to buy is the chain's quinoa-and-black-bean-infused tortilla chips.
Construction sets these chips apart from others. They're noticeably thicker than a standard chip, so they don't fall apart under the weight of heavy salsas, hummus, or chunky guacamole, but they're not so dense that they lose the crisp factor.
They also come in a hexagonal shape, so they feel like they've been engineered not to break in dip bowls. This sturdiness, the employee assured me, makes them ideal for dishes like loaded nachos.
These chips could honestly pass for homemade.
I worried these would taste too much like "health food" because of the quinoa, but thankfully, that wasn't the case. Instead, they offered that familiar corn-chip flavor with a little more depth.
There's slight nuttiness from the quinoa and hearty notes from the black beans that made them feel fancier than so many other options on the shelves. To top it off, they're lightly seasoned with onion, so they're yummy enough to eat on their own or with a dip.
I found pairing it with salsa brought out the black-bean flavor, but their overall flavor is neutral enough to pair with a variety of dips. I spent a week alternating between using it as a vessel for hummus and pico de gallo and truly can't decide what I like better.
VERDICT: Trader Joe's offers a solid selection of classic corn tortilla chips that will get the job done, but these are great if you really want to impress people. I'll definitely be buying them again.
One staff member said the garlic-and-herb dough helps them make the best pizza ever.
Recommendation: "This makes the best pizza I've ever had. It has herbs in it, so it has a lot of flavor. I never used to make my own pizza because I didn't like premade crusts, but this got me to actually start making my own pizzas. It takes some getting used to rolling it out at first, but it's definitely worth it."
If you're all about making things from scratch or want to at least feel like you put effort into your meal, this dough may be the answer.
The dough comes in a ball and requires some effortto roll it out into something remotely pizza-like. It's super sticky out of the package, so lay it on a floured surface to keep it from getting stuck to your counter. I highly recommend doing this on parchment paper to minimize the mess.
I'd use this herbed dough again for a restaurant-quality pizza with minimal effort.
The label says this makes a pizza big enough to serve eight, but what I ended up with seemed more appropriate for about four people.
If you're able to get this into a perfect circle, then my compliments to you. After letting the dough proof for 30 minutes and spending minutes pressing it with a rolling pin, tossing, and flouring, the best I could do was something that looked like an oval.
Beyond that, everything the employee said about this dough is true — it's fantastic. It baked into a nice, slightly puffed up, chewy crust.
The addition of herbs and garlic made this an absolute home run. Trader Joe's doesn't skimp on seasonings, either. Every inch of dough is covered with specks of dried rosemary, basil, thyme, and oregano.
It's so yummy I could eat it with just a drizzle of olive oil. For this taste test, I covered it with a smear of basil pesto and mozzarella and it was one of the most delicious meals I've ever made for myself.
VERDICT: This herbed dough is a great way to give homemade pizzas a huge boost of flavor. It requires a bit of extra work but it's worth it. I will buy this again and again.
One employee praised the smoked, apple chardonnay chicken sausage.
Recommendation: "All of our chicken sausage is super underrated, in my opinion. I love them all, but this apple and chardonnay is my favorite. I slice it and add it to some spicy pasta for dinner. It's always a hit with my family."
It had been a long time since I'd eaten a chicken sausage, so I was excited when an employee recommended this product to me. I'd never heard of this flavor and can't believe I overlooked a chicken sausage infused with white wine.
The links come precooked, so preparing them is ridiculously easy. I only needed to warm them in the frying pan with a little bit of oil for a few minutes before serving.
This chicken sausage is a tasty, lean alternative to a traditional link.
There's enough seasoning in these that they don't taste remotely fruity. The only way I detected the apple was through the texture of the diced pieces of it.
The white wine was more noticable than I anticipated, but not in a bad way. It brought a nice depth to the link's overall flavor. It had a nice balance of smoke and sweetness.
Per the ingredients, the links are seasoned with a unique blend of thyme, rosemary, ginger, and nutmeg, so it seems like it's pretty much made for fall flavors. I'd slice it and serve it with risotto and butternut squash or spicy Arrabbiata pasta, as the employee suggested.
VERDICT: I'd say this chicken sausage was a solid recommendation worth having on hand. This wasn't the first chicken sausage I've purchased from Trader Joe's, but I can now confirm it is one of the better ones.
One employee told me once you try this hatch-chile mac and cheese, you'll never look back.
Recommendation: "My go-to dinner is this mac and cheese. It's so much better than the boxed stuff. You can taste the actual cheese in it, and it has a nice chile taste but isn't at all spicy. My kids love it."
Having tried Trader Joe'sfrozen diner-style mac and cheese, I sort of knew what to expect with this.
Like most of the chain's frozen dishes, this can be prepared in the oven or microwave. For my taste test, I opted for the oven because, in my experience, it's usually worth it to avoid potentially rubbery noodles.
I was a bit disappointed, but I'd still rank this mac and cheese way above the boxed stuff.
Fresh out of the oven, this looked more like a casserole with a cheese "crust" sitting on top of the pasta. After some light mixing, it melted into an ultra-smooth and creamy sauce that clung beautifully to each elbow.
The box says this serves two,but I was full after eating a little more than half of the tray. If I were extra hungry, I might've easily knocked out the whole package.
This was pretty good for a frozen mac and cheese. The elbows were yummy and tender, and there was plenty of cheese to go around.
This didn't quite live up to my expectations because the chile was milder than I expected. I found it was only detectable through a very subtle smoky undertone in each bite.
The tiny bits of diced peppers flecked throughout the mac and cheese didn't contribute much flavor, either. More than anything, the dish tastes like a slightly less-rich, peppery variation of Trader Joe's diner-style mac and cheese.
VERDICT: Although I probably wouldn't buy this again, I'd still happily recommend this to anyone who wants a quick comfort meal.
Another employee called the lentil soup with ancient grains a delicious, hearty meal.
Recommendation: "I probably eat this once a week, no joke. I personally think it's one of the best things we sell. Sometimes I don't even warm it up — I'll just eat it cold like gazpacho because it's that good. Hearty, too. Between the lentils and ancient grains it's super filling."
I'm the kind of person who buys soup even when it's the middle of summer, so I was delighted when an employee recommended this refrigerated lentil-and-ancient-grain soup, calling it her favorite weeknight meal.
This soup tasted like something that had been simmering all day, even though I heated it in my microwave.
This had layers of flavor to it. The broth was thick, full-bodied, and delicious.
Tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice probably gave it layers of varying acidity and sweetness. Garlic, cumin, paprika, and clove gave it a nice warming quality that makes it perfect for a chilly, winter afternoon.
I love how the lentils and other ancient grains made it hearty and filling without the use of any meat or cheese. The texture reminded me a lot of the vegetarian chili they sell in the refrigerated section, but between the two, I prefer this one a lot more.
VERDICT: Everything about this soup exceeded my expectations. Its quality was on par with the pricier soups you find at fancier grocery stores but for a third of the price. Since writing this review, I've already gone back and bought another container.
One Trader Joe's employee buys frozen edamame regularly.
Recommendation:"I live close to a Japanese restaurant, and every time, without fail, I can't help but add on the extra order of edamame … which tacks on an extra $5 every time. The bagged edamame we sell is a fraction of the price, and I honestly can't tell the difference. It's a regular purchase for me."
For those unfamiliar, edamame are soybeans that have been picked while still young. Taste-wise, they're reminiscent of peas, but sometimes more buttery than sweet.
Right off the bat, Trader Joe's edamame earned high marks in my book simply for the fact that it required zero cooking. All you need to do is thaw it in the fridge overnight.
You can also throw it in the microwave as I did.
This edamame hit the spot.
I thought that these were gonna end up mushy after zapping them, but the texture was spot on. Firm, but not so tough that I couldn't get the bean.
The beans had a pleasant, lightly buttery flavor that tasted great with a hint of salt. I appreciate that Trader Joe's didn't go overboard with the seasoning.
I also thought it was a good value for the price. Even though my roommate, a friend, and I devoured the entire bag over the course of one movie screening, it was still cheaper than what it would have cost for a single serving of edamame from most restaurants.
Verdict: I'll definitely be repurchasing.
Trader Joe's tzatziki is one of my favorite products, and I was delighted when two employees suggested I try the vegan version.
Recommendation: "I'm lactose intolerant, so when we got this I was so happy. I can hardly taste the difference between this and the regular version. I think it's even better."
"I've been obsessed with it ever since we first got it in stores. I think it's better than the original."
Instead of yogurt, this vegan tzatziki features a dairy-free cream-cheese base. At a glance, it looked unusually lumpy in the container. After a quick stir, it became as smooth as its non-vegan counterpart.
Trader Joe's vegan tzatziki is just as good as the original.
This was pretty much identical to the original yogurt-based tzatziki — cool and refreshing, with garlic and lemon undertones. The only noticeable difference, in my opinion, was that this dairy-free version had a more noticeable dill taste, whereas the regular stuff is more cucumber-heavy.
If you'd served this to me without telling me it was vegan, I wouldn't have guessed it was dairy-free at all.
I might even prefer this to the original. I particularly appreciate that there were no gigantic cucumber ribbons. Instead, the herbs were finely chopped so every bite was consistent. I ate mine over a salad with falafel and pita, though I can totally see this pairing well with a variety of cuisines.
VERDICT: This is an amazing dip that's well worth keeping on hand whether you're a vegan or not. The vegan tzatziki perfectly mimics the flavor of the Mediterranean dip without any dairy, and I will be adding it to my list of staples.
Trader Joe's apple blossoms are a staple for one worker.
Recommendation:"I can't go a week without eating one of these at least once. I just pop it in the microwave and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. They're deadly."
Apparently, Trader Joe's has been selling apple blossoms in its frozen section for upwards of 20 years now, but I'd never heard of them until an employee excitedly told me last week that they were his all-time favorite product.
An apple blossom is basically a cross between a miniature apple pie, galette, and dumpling. They sounded like a perfect dessert, consisting of sliced apples with brown sugar wrapped in a pastry crust.
Per the instructions, the blossoms can be baked or microwaved. I used my oven.
The single-serve apple blossoms are the perfect after-dinner dessert.
The pastry is wonderfully sweet and buttery, like shortbread. The union of warm, soft apple slices and cinnamon in the middle is absolutely divine — and I say this as someone who usually doesn't reach for apple desserts.
If that's not enough to make your mouth water, these come topped with a crumbly cinnamon streusel. That extra crunch on top of the flaky pastry and gooey filling? A true 10 out of 10.
Had you served this blossom to me without telling me where it was from, I would assume you bought it from a bakery or one of those apple orchards you see plastered all over Instagram during the fall.
VERDICT: Until coming across these apple blossoms, I'd yet to find a single-serve dessert in Trader Joe's frozen section that could actually pass for something fresh. These treats are a winner in my book.
I was told Trader Joe's BBQ-chicken pizza is a great alternative to takeout
Recommendation: "It's the one thing we sell that keeps me from buying takeout."
I cannot resist a pie topped with barbecue sauce and chicken so I was as stoked when one employee recommended Trader Joe's version of the dish.
From the moment I removed this pizza from the package, I was impressed. There was enough sauce, cheese, and toppings piled on top of the crust to rival the pizzas I'd order from quick-service stops like MOD or Pieology.
I find this is a rarity in frozen pizzas, which are usually more bread than anything. Chunks of onions were plentiful, and there was a fair amount of cheese covering the surface of the pie.
All I had to do was unwrap the pizza and pop it in the oven directly on the rack.
I thought this pie was proof that convenience food has come a long way.
This was delicious. The chicken was tender and yummy, and the ratio of sauce to meat, cheese, and red onions felt just right.
I really enjoyed the flavor combination of Gouda with the mozzarella and red onions. The onions themselves were fully cooked, so there was a mild sweetness to them that meshed well with the slight smokiness in the cheese.
The sauce didn't blow me away but it was still enjoyable. It had a distinct spicy, but not-at-all hot undertone to it thanks to a medley of cumin, allspice, and cinnamon. And though it's made with a standard tomato and molasses base, I found it to be more tangy than sweet.
It's not the kind of sauce I'd use for dipping, but it worked well on the pizza.
The only thing I didn't like about this was the paper-thin crust that I thought tasted bland and floury. This was quite the letdown because there was quite a bit of bare crust at the end of each slice.
VERDICT: Overall, I was quite satisfied with how this frozen pizza turned out.I'll definitely be stocking my freezer with a few of these.
One staff member said the chain's wine-soaked Toscano cheese is the perfect combination of tasty and fancy.
Recommendation:"Have you tried the Toscano that's soaked in Syrah? That's my favorite. If you're a wine drinker, you need to try it."
This one came from an employee who told me their favorite thing about Trader Joe's was its cheese selection, which prompted an extended conversation about our mutual love for Toscano.
The employee told me it tastes best when paired with a glass of red, which makes sense.
This stuff would be a hit on any charcuterie board or dinner party.
Like the other Toscano Trader Joe's sells, this cheese is mild and smooth like cheddar but salty like aged Parmesan.
The fact that it's been soaked in Syrah makes each bite drier on the finish than one might expect, but not in a bad way. The wine infusion also gives the cheese a subtly sweet and peppery flavor that adds a nice contrast to all the salt.
This Toscano is a great option for people who want to try something new but aren't sure if they're ready for the more intense cheeses. It's not as intimidating as something like a pungent bleu cheese, but it's a bit more refined than a regular block of cheddar.
It also spreads well on crackers if you let it sit out on the counter for a good 20 minutes before serving.
Verdict: At about $10 a pound, this cheese may seem pricey, but for the one-of-a-kind flavor it delivers, it's worth every penny.
Trader Joe's rolled tortilla chips in chili and lime were recommended to me multiple times.
Recommendation: "I try not to buy these anymore because I can eat an entire bag in one sitting."
When I asked the Trader Joe's employees at my local store what their go-tos were, only two products came up multiple times: the chain's famous frozen orange-chicken entree (which I've reviewed twice), and the award-winning rolled corn tortilla chips.
Per the package description, these tube-shaped snacks are made out of stone-ground masa that's been fried, rolled, and coated in a chili-and-lime-flavored seasoning.
The chain's rolled corn tortillas chips are incredible.
They're supremely spicy and crunchy, with a strong kick of lime that only magnifies the heat even further.
You might find these to be lip-puckeringly sour if you're not keen on citrus tastes. But I loved the chips because I can usually be found squeezing extra lime or lemon on top of everything.
I didn't find these to be very hot, but as someone who grew up eating snacks like Hot Cheetos, I have a fair tolerance for spice.
More than anything, I really liked that I could actually taste corn-chip flavor underneath all the seasoning.
I'm also a fan of the cylindrical chip shape. With a seasoning this intense, I don't think a traditional triangle would work. It's the kind of snack that needs multiple bites per chip for the full effect.
Verdict: These are a must-buy if you're a fan of salty snacks.
Read the original article on Insider