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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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Trader Joe's Chile Relleno

Besides really piquing my interest about what went down at the local pseudo-Chotchkie's, Nathan's latest post brought to mind one of the greatest movies ever, Office Space. It's one of the few movies that I can say I've seen probably twenty times, and if I happened to see it on TV, I'd most likely stop whatever I was doing and watch it. That and The Princess Bride. Anyways, I don't want to bore you with the details of my job (which I generally enjoy, possibly more than one reasonably should, considering it's dealing with prescription insurances) but my job does kinda remind me of Office Space sometimes, especially how the main character, Peter, seems to continually repeat a daily work routine. Difference is, I generally like mine. I usually get in at right around the same time, clock in, blow off the first couple minutes BSing with my cubicle neighbors, make my usual pot of coffee while explaining to yet another coworker what a French press is and how it works, review a couple emails (on a good day, 1 out of 10 has lasting relevance for me), BS with the boss about whatever sports event happened the night before, and before I know it, it's about 15 minutes or so later, and it's time to start saving the world, one insurance fustercluck at a time. I like to think I'm good at it, and I like it, so if it's up to me I'll be sticking around for a while.

Short of gutting a fish on a pile of TPS reports or dragging a fax machine out into a field to play whack-a-mole, one way to add a little variety (note: a relative term) is for my lunch. For a while, I was definitely stuck in a rut. First, it was Chef Boyardee. I've eaten more of that for a work lunch than I ever care to admit. Then, for a while, add a bunch of the TJ noodle bowls, but those got old after a while, so those have been relegated to emergency lunch stockpile status for the time being. And I really don't like to go out and buy lunch somewhere, especially in a suburban jumble where the best inexpensive option is the Sheetz down the street (as good as it is, I cannot eat Chick-Fil-A every day...the wallet doesn't allow it). So I've been trying out some different TJ frozen lunches when there's no leftovers to snatch up in my out-the-door whirlwind. There's been some great, some pretty good, and one or two decent ones I've found, with no true clunkers yet (one close call, though).

I think I'll end up putting the Trader Joe's Chile Relleno somewhere in the decent to pretty good category. If you're not familiar with what a chile relleno is, it's a pretty basic Mexican dish comprised of usually a poblano pepper stuffed with some meat and cheese and topped off with salsa and more cheese. Now that sounds like it could be a spicy dish, but this particular incarnation really isn't. Poblanos are pretty mild by nature, and honestly, I've had regular bell peppers with more of a bite than the one that came with my box. I'd also rank the salsa as tasty but pretty tame, and any trace amount of heat gets more than compensated for by the Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses oozing here, there, and everywhere. Alas, there's no meat to be found here, which depending on your point of view can be a plus or minus. Tastewise, it's satisfying enough. Texturewise, well...for being plucked, roasted, stuffed, frozen, boxed, shipped, stocked, bought, then nuked, the poblano holds up pretty well (only semi-squishy), though if you have a knife, you'll want it to slice through the skin. All I had was a fork, and well, that didn't quite cut it. For me, I got a nice little treat when the work microwave (I swear, those things suck! I'd take those out to a field with a baseball bat any day) scorched some cheese mingled with a little salsa on the one edge of the tray, giving me a crispy bonus. I love burned cheese, and my lunch was much better with it. Thanks, work microwave, and thanks Trader Joe's, for making that possible...TJ's, are you trying to make up for something here? Thanks, you shouldn't have.

If you're familiar with my lovely wife's food rules, you'll know why she'll pass it up. Sorry all, we'll get back on board with her usual silliness and rankings very soon. This one's all me. So, it was fairly likable overall, I'd say, and with a couple side items made for a reasonable lunch in the belly-rumble quelling department. I wish it were a little spicier, and wish it had a little chorizo in the stuffing for a little added boost, but until I'm in charge, this is the way the chile relleno's gonna be, I guess. Somewhere around a 3.5 and a 4 seems in order, so let's say one of each.

Now, excuse me, but I believe you have my stapler...

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


  1. I was disappointed by this one. Now why can't they just scrap it and bring us a delicious Chiles en Nogada--a poblano chile filled with a beef-nut-almond mix and topped with a creamy sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds? http://travelswithcarole.blogspot.com/search/label/San%20Miguel%20de%20Allende

  2. I love the trader joe's chili rellano. Sometimes they are spicier than others but that is really dependent on the chili. As far as I know chili rellanos never have meat in them although I agree soyrizo would be delicious in it. By the way, you should try their soyrizo. It is wonderful. My Mexican husband gives it an A plus.

  3. Oh man their soyrizo is great! It's the first thing I ever reviewed for this site last December, and it's still an almost every trip buy! I linked my review in this review if you click the word "chorizo" in the last paragraph

  4. I LOVE this product. Trader Joe's Chile Relleno is a staple on my list everytime I go there. I worry so much about what I would do if they discontinued it.

  5. I initially found the tomato sauce a bit too salty but the dish overall was very tasty. I'd rate it 7.5 easily.

  6. I found this to be delicious! Best prepared in the oven. 9 of 10 stars from me. Definitely getting this again.