Trader Joe’s, Meet Houston: A Review

5 Nov

Houston just got a Trader Joe’s.  I was excited to see that TJ was coming to Houston and a little sad to see that it was opening in the old West Alabama Bookstop (theatre) space on S. Shepherd, which has been a landmark for many over the years until it closed.  However, I’m all for re-purposing buildings instead of building new ones, so I’m sure I’ll get over it


If you have never heard of Trader Joe’s, it is a small grocery chain not unlike Whole Foods (but waaay cheaper and usually in much smaller retail spaces) in that they sell organic produce, non-GMO (hormone) foods, specialty foods and wines (like their famous “Two Buck Chuck“), and provide a friendly, hipster-ish, health-oriented environment for a pleasant grocery shopping experience.  However, just like Whole Foods, don’t expect to pop over to TJ’s for Downy, Pringles, or Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese.  There are no national brands available at TJ’s, but that is part of the unique fun and allure of the place.  Almost every product is Trader Joe’s brand.  TJ’s sources their products both locally and internationally (such as their gourmet items from France and Germany), slaps their label on it, and passes the savings on to you.  And the savings are huge!  Many items in the store are $2.99, $3.99, and $4.99, and more delicious than similar items sold at either Whole Foods or other grocery chains (like Kroger or HEB Central Market).  The downside is that you have to act quick because TJ’s has limited availability of items in store and often sell out of their fun, yummy, seasonal products (such as their pumpkin cereal bars, which I was unable to get my hot little hands on).  In fact, when Husband and I last visited Trader Joe’s, we piled our cart high with goodies, produce, bath and kitchen products, and a carving pumpkin and walked out right at $100.  There is NO way on God’s green earth that you could do that at Whole Foods.


L-R: TJ’s Greek yogurt in pumpkin, pomegranate, and vanilla bean; TJ’s pumpkin cream cheese; TJ’s fig butter; TJ’s biscuits, TJ’s cinnamon rolls, TJ’s pumpkin butter. Not shown: TJ’s pomegranate seeds.


My fridge has become a haven for all things Trader Joe’s.  My pantry looks roughly the same:


L-R: TJ’s pumpkin pancake & waffle mix; TJ’s multigrain pita bite crackers; TJ’s yogurt pretzels; TJ’s fat-free refried beans; TJ’s turkey chili w/beans;  TJ’s popcorn with olive oil (in green bag); TJ’s clam chowder


There are so many wonderful, inexpensive items available at the S. Shepherd Trader Joe’s.  Here are my recommendations:


Popcorn with Olive Oil: I seriously love this gluten-free snack (which is an important dietary element to me, since I don’t process gluten well and have been trying to limit my gluten intake)!  It’s not too salty like some popcorns are and it has the most amazing, original flavor!  Butter, be gone!  Hellooo, olive oil!  A must try!


Turkey chili with beans:  This makes all other canned chilis (and it should be noted that I try to avoid canned foods like the plague) look like some sort of mutant dog food.  For real.  This chili tastes homemade (you can even see the onions and bell peppers inside and they looks — gasp! — fresh) and is so delicious, even my skeptical husband wanted a second helping.  This will be a staple in my pantry.  It is also gluten-free.


Cookie Butter:  To. Die. For.  It has the consistency of peanut butter, is gluten-free, and tastes like blended gingersnaps and shortbread cookies.  A little goes a long way, though, so don’t overindulge if you’re watching your waistline.  It’s perfect paired with sliced apples, which is how I eat it.  Get some immediately.


Clam chowder: Best clam chowder from a can I’ve ever had, and I’m super picky about clam chowder.  It also has less sodium than most other canned chowders.  It’s condensed, but amazing.  If you like clam chowder, you’ll love this.


Pumpkin bread & muffin mix: This mix made the BEST pumpkin muffins I’ve ever had, and I though I had outdone myself with a from-scratch batch at the start of fall.  These are moist, large, and perfect if you add a touch of sanding sugar on top of the batter before sliding the pan into the oven.  A must-have for fall or a Thanksgiving-morning breakfast table.


Pomegranate seeds: I have never seen these before until stepping into Trader Joe’s! I had previously scooped the seeds from the whole pomegranate, which is a messy pain in the ass.  TJ’s sells them in the produce section for about $3.99 for a good amount.  I eat them in yogurt.  Delish.


Pumpkin cream cheese: If you haven’t tried this yet, you’re missing out.  It has the consistency of a whipped cream cheese, but is neither too cream cheesy or too pumpkiny.   It’s light and goes perfect on bagels or the aforementioned pumpkin muffins (which is how I had it this morning, along with a cup of tea and half of a grapefruit, also from Trader Joe’s).  If you’re near a Trader Joe’s, run out and get some of this before it’s gone!


Refresh Shampoo & Conditioner: I’m a product snob when it comes to my hair.  I have thick, long, curly hair that becomes unmanageable if you even look at it the wrong way.  However, at $2.99 for a 16 oz. bottle, I wanted to try Trader Joe’s hair care line and I’m glad I did!  These products not only smell delicious — think Florida citrus groves — but clean expertly well and leave my hair shiny and soft.  My usual hair cleansing products — Garnier, John Frieda, and MorrocanOil — don’t measure up, believe it or not.  I actually plan to head by to TJ’s this weekend to get another bottle of the shampoo (which I do prefer to the conditioner).  Another product in the TJ’s body care line to try: Refresh Body wash, which is just as lively smelling and luxurious as the shampoo and conditioner.  Trust me.  For $2.99, you can afford to try it out.  *All of these products are also cruelty-free, which I rate very highly.


Antibacterial Hand Soap, Fresh Linen Scent: I first used this two weekend ago when I visited my friend Kim in Los Angeles for a book reading/signing we were doing at Skylight Book near Hollywood.  She had this on the sink in the bathroom and when I smelled it, I about died.  It’s so fresh and clean smelling and cleanses exceptionally well.  I purchased two bottles (one for kitchen, one for guest bath) when I got back to Houston.  A+ hand soap.  $3.99 for 16 oz, which is cheaper than the usual $4 for 8 oz. of hand soap at Bath & Body Works (which I had been buying).


Enrich Moisturizing Face Lotion with SPF 15: This stuff is so well-loved (and only $3.99 for a good-sized bottle) that it even has a Facebook fan page.  I purchased mine in Los Angeles because the weather (and the Santa Anas) dried out my skin something fierce.  This not only did the trick, but is not oily, greasy, or pore-clogging, and is cruelty-free.  The bottle is similar to Oil of Olay’s beauty fluid, but it absorbs very quickly and does not have that funky, strong Olay smell.  If you need a good facial moisturizer to toss in a bag or a travel kit, I highly recommend this one.  I use it every day and love it!


Joe-Joe’s cookies: Think Oreos without the refined sugar and weird preservatives and you have Joe-Joe’s cookies.  I purchased the vanilla flavor and treat myself to two with a cup of tea for an after-dinner treat every few days.  Husband, who is a steadfast Oreo devotee, loves Joe-Joe’s.  And for $1.99-$2.99 a box, they are well worth it.


Chewy Chocolate-Chip Granola Bars: I also purchased my first box of these granola bars in Los Angeles as a little snack to keep my blood sugar up (I have hypoglycemia) and these were perfect!  They are slightly larger than the similar Quaker Oats variety, but taste 100% better and are around $2 for a box of 6.  An added plus is that they don’t contain artificial preservatives and colors, unlike many cereal bars on the market.  These are a healthy (ish) snack to toss in a gym bag, a lunch box, or a work drawer.  I now have 2 boxes in my pantry.


Pumpkin Ice Cream: Decadent. Sweet and slightly spicy.  This is a wonderful fall treat, especially in here in the South where the days are still in the low 80s/upper 70s, and you can still get away with eating ice cream.  The taste is rich and the texture is super creamy and I only need about one scoop (or 1/4 of a cup) to feel satisfied.  For $3.99, you should run to the store, because they’re going fast!


I also was pleased to see that Trader Joe’s is selling a cinnamon broom for the fall/Thanksgiving season!



The needles of the broom are treated with cinnamon oil.  I stuck mine, which cost $3.99, near the brick fireplace (which I don’t use — don’t worry) and it has since filled my living room/kitchen/dining area with a warm, cinnamon scent that is perfect for fall.  Love this!  I think it also makes a wonderful housewarming or hostess gift.


What are your Trader Joe’s must-haves?  Happy Shopping!

2 Responses to “Trader Joe’s, Meet Houston: A Review”

  1. j9kovac November 6, 2012 at 12:36 AM #

    Pumpkin butter! Dried green mango! Marconi almonds with rosemary! The kids like Gorilla Munch & TJ’s Greek yogurt. I’m not too crazy about their produce, though.

  2. Gary November 10, 2012 at 11:01 PM #

    I used to go there when it was The Alabama Theater in the 70’s. I went to the Saturday midnight Movies and they were showing the original King Kong. There were monkey calls before the film started. But, after the film there was a hushed silence.

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