[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f there's one grocery chain in the United States proving to budget shoppers that low prices don't have to entail low quality and low flavor, it's Trader Joe's. The TJ's lineup includes easy-to-prepare frozen meals, snacks, and sides that keep customers happy, thanks to healthy ingredients and well-balanced taste profiles.
As an avid and longtime Trader Joe's fan myself, I've formed some strong opinions about the tastiest frozen foods at TJ's. These 8 dishes-a combination of long-standing classics and newer additions-always earn themselves a spot on my shopping list.
The best Trader Joe's frozen food options, in my humble opinion (and in reverse order), are:
8. Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Bowl
A full, balanced meal in a single package, the Cuban Style Citrus Bowl includes seasoned yellow rice and black beans, marinated chicken, peppers and onions, sweet plantain pieces, and cilantro. As a "dressing," TJ's includes a container of mojo, a traditional Cuban sauce containing citrus juice, olive oil, onion, garlic, and pepper. Though it comes fully-cooked, you can heat it in the microwave, and its balance of ingredients is spot-on: No single element overpowers the others, allowing for a rich blend of textures and savory, tangy, and spicy flavors. If you're in need of a hearty and very reasonably priced meal to bring to the office for lunch, you've found it.
7. Tteok Bok Ki
Korean rice cakes, also known as tteok bok ki, seem like relative newcomers to the Trader Joe's collection of frozen international foods, and I think they're a resounding success. These cakes have a perfectly tender, springy texture, and the sauce that coats them has a deep umami flavor balanced by spicy hot pepper, nutty sesame seeds, and a slight hint of sweetness. Tteok Bok Ki is delicious on its own (its texture is similar to that of gnocchi), but it also pairs beautifully with meat, tofu, fried eggs, and pickled vegetables.
6. Ube Mochi
Sweet, creamy, chewy, and handheld, Ube Mochi made an immediate impression on us when it hit the TJ's freezers in 2021. Ube (purple yam) infuses the ice cream with a gently sweet, slightly nutty flavor. The chewiness comes from the rice flour wrapper that ensconces the ice cream-making mochi an appealing grab-and-go frozen treat.
5. Black Bean & Cheese Taquitos
Frozen appetizers can be the saving grace of a last-minute game day gathering or Netflix binge, and TJs Black Bean & Cheese Taquitos are total crowd pleasers. Their savory, jalapeño-spiked, creamy bean filling melds well with the cheese pull-ready Monterey Jack. Tortilla wrappers crisp up nicely, particularly when you heat the taquitos in the oven instead of a microwave. Easy to grab, easy to eat, and easy to enjoy, these snacks are ideal dipping vessels for salsa, guacamole, or queso.
4. Channa Masala
Among the dishes that put Trader Joe's on the map for vegetarian shoppers, Channa Masala has been on the TJ's menu for years, and it's easy to understand why the chickpea curry inspires such devotion from its fans.
Its chickpeas are not too firm, and not too squish, and its vibrant sauce sings thanks to turmeric and cilantro, slightly-sweet tomatoes, onions, rich ghee (clarified butter), and a touch of powdered mango. Dig into the Channa Masala with a spoon or naan, or serve it over some freshly-steamed basmati rice. (NB: If this dish has one disadvantage, it's that it doesn't include rice!)
3. Thai Banana Fritters
Another Summer 2022 arrival that drew a great deal of attention from TJ's regulars, Thai Banana Fritters pack tropical flavors such as banana and coconut into an irresistibly crispy package. You can reheat them in the microwave or oven, sure, but they really come alive after a brief trip through an air fryer. Top them with ice cream, dip them in chocolate sauce, or just enjoy them as-is-you really can't go wrong.
2. Cauliflower Gnocchi
Trader Joe's frozen pastas are a smart solution for pasta enthusiasts who don't have a machine at home (or who don't want to take the time to roll out and shape their own pasta). The Cauliflower Gnocchi is a low-carb spin on TJ's potato gnocchi, but the cauliflower version-made with 75% cauliflower-doesn't cut any corners where texture or flavor are concerned. These perfectly plush and pillowy pasta bites are great with tomato sauce or cream sauce, but sauteing them with butter, garlic and herbs (then topping them with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano) is even tastier.
1.Mandarin Orange Chicken
You've been waiting for it: the legendary Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken. Beloved by busy professionals, stressed-out college kids, and anyone yearning for Chinese-American takeout at a fraction of the cost, Mandarin Orange Chicken sports a crunchy outer crust, a juicy interior, and a sweet, fruit-forward sauce with a lively undercurrent of spice. Heat it up in the oven, on the stovetop, in the microwave, or in the air fryer, then pile it on some rice for a satisfying weekday meal that'll never let you down.