Maya Wong

Top chefs around the West share their go-to items from the cult-favorite grocer

Maya Wong  – December 12, 2018 | Updated March 4, 2019

With hundreds of colorful, cheeky-titled products lining the aisles of Trader Joe’s, it can be a challenge to narrow down what’s actually worth trying. So, we asked professional chefs to give us the scoop on the products they always stock up on at the tiki-themed supermarket. Here’s what they had to say.

Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings

“The beauty of a soup dumpling is best experienced as soon as it’s ready, which is the magic of the TJ’s dumpling. After heating them up, you instantly get soft dumplings filled with chicken and a rich, savory broth.” – Adam Tortosa of Robin (San Francisco, CA)

Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese

“The only thing holding me back from eating these until my stomach curdles is that there are only 10 nuggets per box and I’m too lazy to open a second. The beauty in this treat is that the sugar from the dates caramelizes into the bacon in indescribable ways. Chef tip: Pan-fry these in a cast-iron [pan] before tossing them in an oven. You’ll get more color on the bacon and give a head start on the caramelization process.” – Tyler Malek of Salt & Straw (Portland, OR)

Savory Thin Mini Rice Crackers – Multiseed with Tamari Soy Sauce

“These are the perfect snack by themselves, but I’ve actually found (via my son) that they go really well with cheese–specifically whipped cream cheese and goat brie. Don’t ask, just try.” – Brooke Williamson of Playa Provisions, The Tripel, Hudson House, Da Kikokiko, and Small Batch  (Los Angeles, CA)

Crunchy Almond Butter

“I start most days with a piece of gluten-free toast smothered in almond butter, and my go-to is Trader Joe’s Crunchy Almond Butter. It has a deep roasted nutty flavor and satisfying crunch.” – Candace Nelson of Sprinkles Cupcakes and Pizzana (Los Angeles, CA)

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Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend

“I make a green onion Belgian waffle with the Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend, cream cheese, and smoked salmon for special brunch dates. It’s always a great crowd hit.” – Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins of El Jardin (San Diego, CA)

Chicken & Cheese Tamales and Sweet Corn Tamales with Mild Green Chiles & Cheese

“I actually stock my freezer with Trader Joe’s tamales, from the handcrafted Chicken & Cheese to the Sweet Corn with Mild Green Chiles & Cheese. These tamales are the best for a quick lunch or dinner because their seasoned filling wrapped in moist corn masa leaves you perfectly satisfied.” – Eric Minnich of The Commissary (San Francisco, CA)

Garlic Naan

“I feel like these are my kryptonite. They’re easily the first thing I dash towards when going to TJ’s and often the first to leave the freezer. When these buttery, savory, flat donut-like treats are nearby, I’ll eat so many that my body starts questioning its ability to properly process gluten. But, nonetheless, I always go back. Load these up with melted cheese and dark roasted veggies and savor every bite.” – Tyler Malek of Salt & Straw (Portland, OR)

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Freeze-Dried Fruit

“I use the freeze-dried fruits in scones, cakes, cookies, ice cream–pretty much anywhere where I want to get the intense flavor of the fruit without the moisture affecting the end product. They’re inexpensive compared to many other places I’ve seen freeze-dried fruit.” – Belinda Leong of b. patisserie and b. on the go (San Francisco, CA)

Pound Plus 72% Dark Chocolate

“I go through pounds and pounds of chocolate in my house, so I always keep a stash of Trader Joe’s Pound Plus 72% Dark Chocolate bars on hand. They are incredibly high quality at an amazing price; the flavor and quality are reminiscent of Callebaut Belgian chocolate.” – Candace Nelson of Sprinkles Cupcakes and Pizzana (Los Angeles, CA)

Laceys Cookies – Dark Chocolate Almond

“As a self-proclaimed snackaholic, I love all the options at Trader Joe’s. I’ve always been a sucker for their Florentine cookies coated in chocolate and almonds.” – Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins of El Jardin (San Diego, CA)

Speculoos Cookie Butter

“Speculoos is like an Alsatian (a region in northeastern France) ginger snap. I spread the TJ’s brand of cookie butter on bread, croissants, and cookies. I especially use it during the holidays to make b. patisserie’s apple speculoos cookie butter almond croissants.” – Belinda Leong of b. patisserie and b. on the go (San Francisco, CA)

Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s

“I’m a sucker for the sweets section at Trader Joe’s. I like Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s simply dipped in milk until they get soft, or smashed on top of coffee ice cream. They also make a great sweet surprise inside my son’s lunchbox. I’ve eaten these for as long as I can remember.” – Brooke Williamson of Playa Provisions, The Tripel, Hudson House, Da Kikokiko, and Small Batch (Los Angeles, CA)