Ah, Trader Joe’s. If I had one complaint about being Canadian, it might be the lack of Trader Joe’s. I want to not love the place and dismiss it as just great marketing with run-of-the-mill products. Trader Joe’s is not President’s Choice USA Style. It’s better, it’s cheaper, the variety is massive and the quality of products is great and innovative. I am sorry. I’ll turn in my Maple Leaf and Tim Horton’s at the door!

Carole’s Story: Trader Joe’s – A Love Story

I have been shopping at Trader Joe’s for almost ten years. Back in the olden days, I mainly went to Buffalo a couple of times a year to shop at Target and Elmwood Village with a visit to the Albright Knox. When I found out there was a new Trader Joe, it was added to my stops around 2014. I even gave it a shout-out on my guide to Detroit back in 2018.

My TJ experience started out like everyone. I grabbed a jar of Cookie Butter, the heavenly sugar bomb ambrosia made with Dutch Speculoos cookies, and called it a day. It looks like peanut butter but tastes like sugary, Christmas cookie-spiced, thick, spreadable icing. There is even a Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter Facebook Group with 13k followers. Maybe I tried one or two new, interesting-looking products but that was it.

Here is a haul from 2016 – I also used to stock up on Rotel at Wegmans but we can get there here now

Although many people eat it straight from the jar, I only used it for baking. I threw it into brownies, homemade ice cream, creme brulee and cookies. Over the years, I slowly started building a list of staples. It wasn’t until the pandemic shut the border and I suddenly lost access, that I realized how much I missed it.

Now, the border is open and we have fallen in love with Buffalo all over. From Spring til Fall, we drive over with our scooters, spend the night and explore. I spend about $100 US every 6 weeks or so right before we return to Toronto. This is not everything I have in my cupboards, but these are things I don’t like to run out of. All prices are in US dollars.

My current faves, in no particular order:

Brown Sugar Oat Milk Creamer – It’s $1.99 for 16 fluid oz of sweet, brown sugary tasting dairy-free, lactose-free, and even gluten-free goodness. I cut it with unsweetened oat milk because it’s too sweet straight up, but just a tbsp added to my coffee and oat milk makes me a happy camper. I buy 6-8 at a time as we go through one a week.

Greek Chickpeas with Olive Oil and Parsley ($1.99)- I keep a few cans of these on hand at all times. I eat them warm with tzatziki and pita, throw them into salads or spoon some on top of hummus with a drizzle of Crunchy Chili Onion ($4.29), TJ’s answer to Chili Crisp.

Everything But The Bagel Seasoning Blend ($1.99) – This blend of sesame seeds (white and black), poppy seeds, dried garlic & onion, and sea salt flakes brings your next avocado toast to life. I also love it on buttery toast with tomato and mayo. Throw in with some panko for a crispy coating. LOVE.

TJ’s Burrata is $4.99 for 227g and would cost me at least $15 to purchase here. Even with the exchange, it’s a mind-blowing deal. I can’t find it online, but it’s always in stock. Honestly, all of their cheeses are great.

Put those Trader Joe’s goodies to work! Our Favourite Family-Style Recipes

TJ’s Unexpected Cheddar ($3.99 for 7 oz). It’s cheddar but it also has a bit of a Parmesan thing going on, which makes sense as the Vermont Cheesemaker has Italian roots. Fab in a grilled cheese with kimchi.

Smoked Paprika ($2.49) The only tastier smoked paprika I have had is imported from Spain and costs 3 times as much

Trader Joe’s Kalamata Olive Oil, Extra Virgin($9.99 for 1 litre) for cooking, Trader Giotto’s Selezione Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($8.49 for 16oz) for drizzling and salads and their Olive Oil Spray for use with my air fryer.

Currently, I love these Chili & Lime flavoured rolled corn tortilla chips ($2.99) and bought some Fermented Dried Black Garlic ($2.99)and Ajika Georgian Seasoning Blend ($1.99) to try out.

I always grab a few vacuum-packed pouches of Yellow Tadka Dal or Kitchari which make a hearty, tasty lunch or quick dinner when I don’t feel like cooking.

There are other things that I get but not often because it lasts forever like their Green Dragon hot sauce – limey, cilantro tomatillo goodness. NOTHING is better on buttery scrambled eggs. I don’t do a ton of candy/junk food buying. That said, we are currently losing the war against their Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups ($4.49) They are from Satan. Satan knows.

Trader Joe's
Even more items that aren’t on my list because otherwise, the list would be ten pages long

Heather’s Story: Trader Joe’s – A Tagalong Story

Much like Carole, the first time I experienced Trader Joe’s was many years ago. I had joined this lovely community of food bloggers (where Carole and I’s official foodie friend love story began) and several of the ladies I was closest to suggested a cross-border trip to do some shopping. A long day of Walmart, Target and outlet shops was expected. I should have known that with a group of women who loved snacks the way I did never a shoe or sweater would be purchased.

I went into the store like a contestant competing in Grocery Games. Get in fast, grab whatever looks appetizing and figure out what to do with it later. While the foodie group has since gotten smaller my closest friend from those days Robyn and I still go 2-3 times a year to get our hands on the latest seasonal snacks and tried and true favourites. My strategy remains the same; grab anything that looks interesting and figure it out later. Once it is in my cart it rarely is removed. Snacks and spices are my main focus though I regularly bring a cooler bag just in case.

On a recent trip last summer, the lovely border guard (BC) asked?

BC: How long were you away?

Me: About 4 hours

BC: What was the purpose of your trip?

Me: Shopping

BC: How much did you spend?

Me: About $250 dollars

BC: On what?

Me: Ummmm… snacks and seasonings?

BC looks at my friend.

Friends: About $150 on the same.

Okay, so not a snack spirit animal. We received the yellow slip of paper to go declare our purchases.

The new border guard in the scary border guard building asked us the same questions. When he looked at our receipts that confirmed we in fact were telling the truth he sent us on our way clearly annoyed we wasted his time and efforts to squeeze tax money out of us. (For those not aware you don’t pay duty on food and groceries.) He was definitely not a spirit animal either.

Trader Joe's Products
Post US Thanksgiving Haul 2022 – with some Target finds as well (Oreos and Kit Kats)

My current Trader Joe’s faves, in no particular order:

Carole mentioned both the Crunchy Chili Onion and Everything But The Bagel Seasonings but if you love nuts like I do you need to pick a bag of the Crunchy Chili Onion Peanuts ($2.99) and Everything But The Bagel Nut Duo ($3.99). The best part is the last couple of handfuls are more seasoning than nuts. If you are looking for something spicier check out the Buffalo Style Seasoned Almonds ($3.99).

The one item I grabbed my very first day and honestly a trip isn’t complete without them is the Scandinavian Swimmers ($3.49). While it may be the tongue-in-cheek humor I appreciate the most these gummy treats are soft, fresh and delicious. And who can resist the cute shapes of a dolphin, seahorse, fish or lobster?

What kind of seasonings were worth the hassle at the border? So many of them! Standards like Ranch ($2.99), Green Goddess ($2.49) and Chili Lime ($1.99) are perfect for sprinkling over popcorn, while TJ’s Mushroom and Company Umami ($2.99) elevates any pasta dish or soup. I particularly love the Everything But The Elote ($1.99). I put the sh$t on everything from baked chicken to roasted vegetables. And Trader Joe’s is constantly releasing new ones. I can’t wait to get my hands on the Pizza Sprinkle Blend and Ketchup seasoning.

Right on the Mark- Our fave Coffee Drinks On-Demand

One of the negatives of Trader Joe’s is they do release a lot of seasonal and store-specific items. Which can be disappointing when you get there. These Patio Potato Chips were a huge hit in the summer and I was prepared to get bags and bags of them when I went back in the fall only to find them gone. Luckily the Cacio e Pepe Puffs ($1.99) are a solid substitute.

Also released seasonally (closer to Christmas) don’t sit on a Pounds Plus Bar. Quite literally a pound of high-quality chocolate is perfect for holiday baking. Last year’s Pounds Plus Milk Chocolate Bar with Caramel, Pretzel and Sea Salt was perfect for breaking off a piece and snacking on.

The only non-food product I recently purchased was the Daily Facial Sunscreen SPF 40 ($8.99). I was sick and tired of greasy chins and my face looking like I was auditioning to be a mime no matter how much I rubbed it I highly recommended this product. You barely know it was applied it’s so light, and not a burnt inch of skin was had.

For anyone going to TJ’s be aware they discontinue and release products constantly. Anything we recommend here may be gone the next time you visit your closest location. However, if I have learned anything in my trip down the aisles; there are always two or three new cool things to try for everyone they no longer carry. And that is pretty fun.

Tell us in the comments below, what are your favourite finds at Trader Joe’s?