Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Trader Jose's Mildly Spiced Vegetable Burritos

Two or three times each winter, I make up a huge pot of chili. It's something I take pretty seriously, actually. I spend a decent chunk of time shopping for and chopping up a bunch of vegetables, browning up the meat, digging thru the spice shelf to toss whatever looks good in there, and drinking beer while doing so. Sometimes I'll skip the meat, pile in some extra beans and onions and peppers and make a mean vegetarian batch that even Chuck Norris would approve of. I don't make wimpy stuff. That's a good, fun evening that's tough to beat and usually reserve for when the Mrs. is out of town or having a girl's night. After I prep everything I let it simmer in the crockpot for a minimum of 24 hours just to let all the flavors seep in, cook up and mingle all together. It just doesn't taste the same if it doesn't - I don't know how to quantify it exactly, but the flavor just seems fuller, maybe a little smokier somehow, and just more complete. A good crockpotful lasts me at least two weeks of work lunches (my coworkers are ever so pleased) and the occasional bachelor dinner. Homemade chili is by far my favorite thing to cook, and one of my favorite things to eat ever. Sandy won't come near touching the stuff, which doesn't bother me any - more for me.

Why do I mention this?

The stuff inside these burritos is nearly as good as my homemade vegetarian chili.

Oh, it's different, for sure. It doesn't have all the chunks, certainly not all the hot peppers, and not all the random spices. But it what it does have is fantastic. These guys are loaded with black and kidney beans, potatoes, some peppers and corn which makes 'em pretty hearty. The base sauce is, as the label suggests, mildly spiced with some garlic, onion, and a hint of jalapeno and chilepepper, but certainly had more heat than anticipated. I will admit when I saw the words "mildly spiced" I presumed these would be tame enough for a baby kitten to munch on. Not so much. Granted, as someone who loves the hot stuff, I would have preferred more heat, but these weren't too sissy, and I probably could have just as easily added some hot sauce to tinker the taste a little closer to my preference. Hmm, maybe some of this?

But what I really liked was the essence of the flavor. Somehow, the burrito filling captured the smoky full-flavoredness my chili seems to develop with a daylong sentence in the crockpot. It's as if Trader Jose burgled his way into my house and took a sample one night while I was dozing away, ran off to some top secret bunker and extracted whatever it is that makes my chili so good and injected it right into these.

I will mention one thing I didn't like as much: the tortilla. Not that it was bad, per se. Apparently, they're made from both wheat and rice flour, which taste pretty good, but makes one Kate Moss-thin wrapper. My burritos were bursting less than halfway thru the nuke cycle in the microwaves, and when trying to eat them, all the goodness was oozing and poking out. By some grace of God I was able to keep my shirt clean and scrub the collateral damage out of my beard. Burritos with all this good saucy tasty filling need a tortilla that can withstand all the magma-esque qualities of the insides, and, sadly, these failed, though not quite to a catastrophic level.

But overall, these are pretty great. And I didn't realize this until I was reading the package wrapper while they were in the microwave, not only are these vegetarian but also organic. The ingredient list makes a point to list each thing as being organic, and if you squint enough you might be able to discern the organic stamp of approval on the front sticker. I sat at my lunch table with a vegetarian coworker and chatted about this fact. She said most grocery stores she's gone to, a couple organic vegetarian burritos like these run at least six or seven bucks for the pair. These were between $2.49 and $2.99, so apparently, a pretty decent value, and fairly healthy. I'll get these again for sure.

Sandy's not interested ever in my homemade chili, and by tangential extension* not so interested in these (too bad), so she sat this ranking out. I'm not accustomed to the burden of such responsibility. I'm deciding between a four and a four and a half, based primarily on the tortilla shortcomings, so, uh ... yeah, one of each sounds right enough.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

*Speaking of tangential extensions, if Chuck Norris liked my homemade veggie chili, he'd like these by the powers of the transitive property. So there's one celebrity endorsement. For a more direct one, these are Rachel Ray's favorite frozen veggie burritos. So, by logical extension, you better like these too or you'll be roundhouse-kicked to death or drowned in EVOO. Consider yourself warned.


  1. Darn, I really wanted to try these. Alas, I'm allergic to black beans and don't want to take another ambulance trip to the ER. They sound just yummy.

  2. Allergic to black beans? I am so sorry. What could you have done to possibly anger the universe so much?

  3. I know, sucks, doesn't it? Unfortunately, I had to find out the hard way.

  4. Had this for lunch today. TERRIFIC. Love your site. Keep it up!

  5. Greg, thanks for the site love! I was really surprised about how good these were. Definite workplace staple for here on out.

  6. I like the Chicken Chile Verde version. I bake them in the oven with a jar of TJ's salsa verde and mixed Mexican cheeses over the top. My husband loves them and that says a lot because we lived in TX for 12 years. You could the same with the veggie version. Any microwaved burrito has a weird textured tortilla IMO.

  7. Jen - I hear ya about the microwaved tortilla thing. Just don't have anything else at work to heat them up with. Still, the tortilla's just a little too thin. Otherwise, nearly perfect!

  8. I love these burrittos and eat them quite often for lunch in the Fall and Winter.