Fortunately, Trader Joe's seems to have some possibilities worth exploring.
One of the first canned pasta alternatives I stumbled upon were his Really Expensive Authentic Handcrafted Chicken Burritos (REAHCBs). They appealed to me for a few different reasons. First off, I love burritos and nearly everything about them - tortillas, meat, beans, cheese, whatever you can fill them with, and wrap it all up - delicious and vaguely Mexican, and I love any Mexican food that doesn't include cow stomach. Secondly, the directions seemed pretty short and simple to make - keep frozen, unwrap when you're ready to eat, cover them with a paper towel, and nuke 'em for a couple minutes. Quick and easy enough for a workplace meal. Thirdly, well, I didn't realize it until I started busting them out, but as a work place food, they look pretty impressive. One of the middle-aged ladies in the lunch room asked where I got them - "they look too good to be from the vending machine," she said. Judging by the look on her face, I could have probably told her they were from the Sharper Image and she would have believed me. As the guy previously most famous in the lunchroom for an unnatural obsession with the Chef, it felt good to have some recognition (however fleeting) as having the Cadillac of microwavable meals. Their pretty impressive name certainly helped.
Well, overall the burritos are pretty decent, but also somewhat tough to get a reliable gauge on through no fault of their own. I blame the work microwaves. The directions say to defrost for two minutes, then go on high for a minute - yeah, show me a work microwave that can you can trust to do just that. There's not even a defrost setting on ours, so I resorted to heating on high for about four or five minutes. The result was a burrito alternating between containing molten hot bean-y magma scorching the inside of my mouth and literal ice chunks which served as relief. The tortilla itself got a little chewy in the process too. But that's CVS's fault, not Trader Joe's, I think.
Taste-wise, the REAHCBs work for a lunch option. The filling is mostly typical bean filling with dark meat chicken chunks. It's flavored with some tomato, onion, and typical spices which give it a little kick, but certainly not taste bud overkill. When it comes to texture, I'd prefer if there were some whole beans or the occasional vegetable chunk in there to mix it up a bit. The tortilla is a decent flour one, but nothing terribly special either.
They're certainly not Really Expensive (I think they were $2.49 for the package) and depending on your appetite they can make one or two lunches. As for Authentic ... well, that can be a relative term. They're not nearly as "authentic" (or for that matter, "handcrafted") as some of the most delicious burritos and related Mexican food I've had in Mexican mountain villages where the women woke up at 4 a.m. to grind the corn and the chickens were clucking around three hours before being served up. But of course, that's not what I could expect either, so I won't hold it against them. Just that Trader Joe character can get a little boastful at times, that's all. At least he wasn't stretching the truth when it came to the "Chicken" and "Burrito" part.
I'll give them a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. With a better preparation method, I'm sure they'd be a little bit better, and I'm somewhat indecisive between giving a 3 and a 3.5 for them. But since Sandy hasn't had them (they have that killer word "tomato" prominently displayed), I'm solely responsible for their grading, so I'll give them one of each.
Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons