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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trader Joe's Really Expensive Authentic Handcrafted Chicken Burritos

Work lunches have always been a little tricky for me. I don't want to go out and spend $5 or $10 every day on lunch. We also rarely have leftovers to pack, and I don't plan ahead to pack a meal at night, nor do I ever wake up with enough time to make a sandwich or anything in the morning. So generally this leaves me with options that are quick to grab as I run out the door, and that are easily prepared at the typical work lunch room (sink, fridge/freezer and microwave bank), and ideally cheap. By default, most weeks this has meant stocking up on Chef Boyardee goods with the pull-tab can lids ... mmm, tasty. Not. Coworkers openly mock me for it - "Hey, you got dinosaurs or ABCs today?" - as they chomp down on their delivery pizza and wings (coincidentally, these same ones complain a lot about "never having money" ... hmmm). A man's gotta eat, but after so many cans of mini-ravioli, you gotta find some other options too.

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


  1. We bake these in the oven with some enchilada sauce and a bit of shredded cheese sprinkled on top. After baking we put a little low fat sour cream on top. YUMMY! Our whole family loves these and one is quite enough. We give them a 9 out of 10.

  2. Monica, that sounds like a pretty tasty option! Haven't tried that yet ... I know TJ's enchilada sauce is pretty darn good, but usually I just take these guys to work. Since this post I've slightly more perfected the work microwave method of heat on high for 3 minutes, flip over, heat on high for another 2, then wait 10 minutes until they're cool enough to eat. Fortunately I have a 45 minute lunch break at my job :).

  3. I love these burritos! They taste better when they have a bit of a crunch to them. After I follow the instructions, I put them in the boiler for about 2-3 minutes on each side. I don't think I could even eat them straight from the microwave. Of course, this is done at home...and not at work...maybe if they have a toaster oven, you could try this method.

  4. These are very good, but as mentioned they are REALLY good if you get them crispy. I bake them at 450F (above the recommendation) for 35 min and they come out slightly browned but very crispy. Add some guac on top or sour cream and they're really delicious.

  5. Love these but they are WAAAY too salty, each one has 920 mg of sodium, and I can usually eat both.

    Packaged foods at TJ's tend to be too salty or too sweet, in my opinion.

  6. I love these burritos too, but the last two times I went to Trader Joe's (two different stores), they weren't there. I asked when they would be back and the manager said it could be a few weeks or a few months. This is not a good sign - they said the same about the Edamame Nuggets and it has been a year since those disappeared. It will be very disappointing if they never come back.

    A tip on "defrost": defrost is roughly 50% power. So defrost for 2 minutes and high for 1 minute is about the same as high for 2 minutes. If your microwave doesn't have a rotating plate, flip it over halfway through to even out the heat. Overcooking will make the tortilla chewy, as you noticed.

  7. I've been looking for these burritos too! My six year old decided he loves them, but if he knew they had refried beans he wouldn't. I had hope they would eventually come back but Kendra, you have me worried.

    I'm going to make my own and she if they pass his test.

  8. After going for quite some time believing that the burritos were gone for good, I went to the store this weekend and found them! I hope they become available in your region as well (I'm in mid-Ohio).

  9. I usually defrost these and brown them in a skillet (works great with all frozen burritos!). I really like the idea of baking them with enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. hmmmm.... I have half a bottle of the sauce in the fridge too...


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