Trader Joe’s has simply existed in the background of my life for the last five or so years. I live in Texas. Austin to be specific, and here, HEB—our neighborhood grocery stores—are king. They have everything. But online it’s a different story. The internet’s favorite grocery store is Trader Joe’s.
I asked a few “in real life” friends if they liked the chain, and the consensus was “It’s cool.” That’s it. Pretty underwhelming responses considering the excited fandom that’s been cultivated online.
And when I tell you people online are excited about Trader Joe’s, I mean exactly that. There are Black women Facebook groups that go into detail about which products they swear by and which ones to skip. But after a year of lingering in that group, I left. I heard about all the products, but I still wasn’t moved enough to visit the store and spend money.
As I’ve mentioned in previous pieces, I’m not unsusceptible to being influenced by TikTok content creators. That is where I’ve learned most of what I know about the popular grocer, since I’d never stepped foot inside one before. Creators have given me a bird’s eye view of what makes people so excited about Trader Joe’s.
So after more than a year of being exposed to grocery hauls, new products, returning products, and best ways to prepare-certain-products videos, I finally decided to make a visit.
Rather than buy random things, I figured it’d be best to make a list of staples I’d seen Black TikTok content creators swear by. I was unsure if I’d like any of it but considering almost all the products were things I already liked, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
· Teriyaki chicken
· Vegetable fried rice
· Orange chicken
· French Market Sparkling flavors Berry Lemonade and Lemonade
· Pizza Parlanno
· Chocolate Lava Cakes
· Lemon Bars
· Meat Lasagna
· Focaccia Bread with Roasted Tomato & Parmesan
The best things were the Teriyaki Chicken—it’s the closest I’ve had to the restaurant Teriyaki chicken I used to get in the Pacific Northwest—vegetable fried rice, orange chicken, guacamole, French Market Sparkling juices, lemonade, and the lemon bars.
Everything else was … mid. There just wasn’t enough flavor in the other products to entice me to try them again. I had high hopes for the meat lasagna. I love having a frozen option on hand on days I don’t have the wherewithal to cook, but I only ate one serving and never went back for leftovers. If I want a good and quick Italian option, I’ll stick with Costco’s Ravioli Lasagna with Beef & Pork Bolognese Sauce.
I have one more pizza left so, I’ll try seasoning it, adding fresh mozzarella, and cooking it a touch differently than the instructions to see if I can salvage it.
All in all, I will—and already have—gone back. Shocked? Well, it really comes down to the quality of the products I enjoyed. The French Market Sparkling juices are refreshing and delicious; the teriyaki and orange chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice are solid options for when I have a craving for Americanized-Chinese food—there aren’t too many good options where I am. I also tried their peanut butter chewy coated & drizzled granola bars. I finished the whole box within 48 hours. I regret not buying two boxes. Those alone are worth a return trip.
The other reason is because over the past few years, my comfort meals—the ones I reach for when the world is too much—aren’t hitting like they used to. It’s why I’ve been on an unintentional search for new options that will leave me satisfied. The Trader Joe’s products I enjoyed give me a reprieve from my usual fare and leave me satiated.
So I, kind of, finally get what the fuss is all about. It’s a small, novel, grocery store that sells almost exclusively their own products. Many of which you can’t get even a good variation of at other stores. The people are friendly, they’re always bringing back seasonal favorites, and there’s plenty of variety so there’s always something new to try. And that’s enough to keep me curious and interested.
Perdita Patrice is a Texas-based writer and documentary filmmaker. She enjoys live music, reading, and watching TV. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @perditapatrice