I tried 14 Trader Joe's frozen appetizers to figure out which is the best for a large party.
I thought the artichoke timbales were kind of bland and the pastry pups left much to be desired.
I was a big fan of the breaded mozzarella-cheese sticks because they were delicious and flavorful.
As a habitual snacker, it'd be cruel not to share my opinions on the best Trader Joe's frozen appetizers to bust out for a party.
I recently took a trip to Trader Joe's and picked out 14 of the best-looking frozen appetizers to rank.
Here's how each appetizer stacked up.
I began by carefully preparing each appetizer.
I was a little disappointed that almost none of the items came with a sauce. As such, I tried almost every item without a sauce to see how the flavor stood up.
As for the cooking, I ignored the instructions for most dishes and put everything in the air fryer for five to eight minutes at either 370 or 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Overall, most things turned out fine and I was ready to rank the appetizers according to what I could see myself eating at a party.
I started off with a wildcard item, Trader Joe's artichoke timbales.
First Impression: Trader Joe's artichoke timbales were one of the biggest wildcards. I was afraid it would have too much cheese and not enough flavor but I also could see it tasting like spanakopita.
I also anticipated a longer time in the air fryer. The artichoke timbales took 18 minutes to cook at about 370 degrees.
Review: If I was eating Trader Joe's artichoke timbales at a gathering, I'd likely only have one or half because I think they're pretty big for an appetizer.
I love spinach and artichoke but this didn't do it for me. I didn't think there was enough cheese to call it cheesy and I felt like the artichoke tasted bland and salty — there didn't seem to be any additional spice.
I think the timbales would've been much better with lemon and butter. I also didn't like how crispy the top got by the time it was finished cooking.
The coconut shrimp didn't have a lot of flavor to me.
First Impression: Out of the box, I already thought Trader Joe's coconut shrimp could benefit from a sweet-and-sour sauce. I thought they looked easy to overcook, which I could see impacting my decision to repurchase.
I also wondered how well this snack would hold its flavor on its own.
Review: If I was at a party, I'd have two of these. The coconut flavor wasn't very prominent but I enjoyed the shrimp. After five minutes at 370 degrees, the coconut shrimp was still quite juicy.
I could enjoy the shrimp with the proper sauce but I think it really needs it. By themselves, the breading was way too overpowering and didn't taste like coconut to me.
Trader Joe's Parmesan pastry pups combine cheese and hot dogs.
First Impression: I thought Trader Joe's Parmesan pastry pups looked exciting. I hoped the dough would rise in the air fryer and have a buttery flavor.
I wasn't totally sold on the cheese — I just don't put that on my hot dogs.
Review: I'd only eat about three of the Parmesan pastry pups. The bun tasted close to a Costco chicken bake with its delicious doughy breading and slightly cheesy flavor but it didn't hit the mark. I thought it was a little too bland to carry the entire dish.
The hot dog was basically all end, which, to me, is the worst part of the food. But if the pastry puffs came with a honey-mustard sauce, I might've been down for more.
There was a little too much going on in the vegetable spring rolls.
First Impression: I like spring rolls a lot so I was excited to try the kind from Trader Joe's, which has shredded tofu, kale, mushrooms, and edamame.
I was confused about why Trader Joe's version needed kale — I feel like there are better vegetables for spring rolls. Nevertheless, I love mushrooms and I thought the edamame could be interesting.
Review: I could see myself eating about two of Trader Joe's vegetable spring rolls at a party. In my opinion, the flavors just didn't go well together.
To me, there were too many alpha dogs in the room between the edamame, kale, and tofu so they didn't mesh as a unit. I think the spring rolls needed a sweet-and-sour sauce, just like the coconut shrimp.
I wasn't sure what to expect with the ratatouille bites.
First Impression: Primarily, I predicted the ratatouille bites would be too bread-heavy. I was also a little concerned by the lack of cheese since I'm used to having this ingredient in fried dishes. Still, as a ratatouille fan, I had high hopes for the quality.
Review: I could eat about four or five of Trader Joe's ratatouille bites at a party but I didn't feel the breading was necessary. At the same time, the vegetables weren't enough to carry this dish. I'd rather have a bowl of ratatouille.
However, the bites were easy to eat and unoffensive to the mouth.
The mini vegetable samosas were a little bland.
First Impression: I like samosas but I'd never tried a frozen prepackaged version. I was a little nervous to see what they'd taste like but they looked like they'd be good.
I regretted not having a sweet-and-sour sauce.
Review: I could eat three or four samosas. Trader Joe's vegetable samosas were certainly spicier than I expected but ultimately lacked a deep flavor.
I thought the potato and crust were good, but nothing more. I'd like to see what the samosas would taste like with a sauce.
The mini beef tacos were all right but I think they needed more fixings.
First Impression: I thought Trader Joe's mini tacos seemed bare, just beef in a shell, but according to the label, there were salsa ingredients somewhere in there. Looking at the taco, I wasn't sure how it would cook in the air fryer.
Review: I'd eat three or four of the mini beef tacos. The shell held up well while not being overly crunchy and the beef was OK. But my first impression was spot on. I got only a little of the salsa flavor (it was mixed in with the meat), including the tiniest hint of lime.
If I could dip Trader Joe's mini beef tacos in salsa and add other fixings, they'd be pretty good, it just requires more preparation. Later on, I had them with sriracha and enjoyed the dish.
Trader Joe's Buffalo-style chicken poppers came in a shape I didn't expect.
First Impression: I feel like poppers are usually molded into spheres, but I thought an appetizer of any other shape would taste as good. Though the label said the Trader Joe's Buffalo-style chicken poppers were fried, they didn't look particularly crispy to me.
Still, I love Buffalo chicken so I was excited to try them. But even before I tasted them, I felt they'd need sour cream.
Review: I'd eat five or six of Trader Joe's Buffalo-style chicken poppers. For me, there was too much wrapper around the corners of the poppers but the filling was fantastic. I thought it was spicy, with a Frank's RedHot-flavor profile.
I can see them being excellent with a little sour cream just as I predicted. I also thought they could've used more cheese because the amount there was in the filling didn't feel very satisfying.
The mac-and-cheese bites needed a sauce in my opinion.
First Impression: I heard Trader Joe's mac-and-cheese bites had a moment a couple of years ago, though I don't remember trying them. Mac-and-cheese balls seem hard to mess up so I had high hopes.
Review: Trader Joe's mac-and-cheese bites were gooey but the number I'd eat depends on what kind of sauce I'd have with them. The picture on the box depicted what seemed like a marinara, which would have paired well.
With the proper accompaniment, I could have about 10 of these. Without it, I'd probably eat six. Appetizers with cheese are easy for me to eat, though I'd use a tiny pinch of salt and even more pepper if I prepared the mac-and-cheese bites again.
The crispy vegetable pouches had a great combination of ingredients.
First Impression: Trader Joe's crispy vegetable pouches, a holiday item, had what I considered the most exciting vegetables, with jicama, taro, cabbage, carrot, onion, shiitake mushrooms, and garlic.
I was also interested because soy sauce was included in the box. I saw myself having quite a few of these bad boys.
Review: I'd have 10 to 12 of Trader Joe's crispy vegetable pouches at a party. There was a ginger flavor at the end and the jicama and delicious flakey pastry gave them a great crunch.
With some soy sauce, the pouches reached another level. I didn't get that many mushrooms, but overall, this was a tremendous team effort from all of the vegetables. The top of the pouches had too much pastry for me but I ate from the bottom and felt satisfied.
The breaded fried ravioli was tasty.
First Impression: I hoped there'd be some sauce in Trader Joe's breaded fried ravioli. Judging by the packaging, it looked like just bread and cheese. I feared the ravioli would leave me wanting more.
Review: I could probably eat 15. The ravioli tasted almost exactly like Trader Joe's mozzarella sticks but not as good. I prefer the stick's single cheese to the ravioli's complex taste of ricotta, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Asiago, and Parmesan.
Secondly, the ravioli had a little too much breading that wasn't as flavorful as I hoped. It also didn't have any kind of marinara-sauce filling.
The pastry bites with feta cheese and caramelized onions had a great taste.
First Impression: I thought Trader Joe's pastry bites with feta and caramelized onions would be the hardest to cook. I put them in my air fryer for a bit and they burned a little but I still wasn't sure if they cooked through. Still, done well, I thought they'd be excellent.
Review: I'd eat 15 of these, if not the entire tray. They were much easier to cook than I thought — seven or eight minutes in my air fryer at 375 degrees — and the caramelized onion added an irresistible sweetness.
The onions went perfectly with the melted feta cheese. I thought the pastry itself was the tiniest bit bland but it didn't matter because it was surrounded by premiere flavors.
Spanakopita was a childhood favorite of mine.
First Impression: Full disclosure, I already knew I loved spanakopita. I made them all the time as a child and had my own method of eating them slowly and savoring the leftover phyllo dough.
Review: I could see myself having about 18 pieces of spanakopita. I loved the blend of feta and ricotta, and the spinach balanced it nicely.
Somehow, the dough remained soft and chewy on the inside while staying flaky on the outside. Even the extra-crispy parts were delicious. Trader Joe's spanakopita is a must-have for every plate.
The breaded mozzarella-cheese sticks were basically perfect.
First Impression: It killed me to not eat Trader Joe's breaded mozzarella-cheese sticks with tomato sauce but in the name of consistency, I didn't.
I thought the picture on the bag made them look more seasoned than I remembered from times previous times I'd had them. I was expecting delicious melty cheese.
Review: I could easily eat 20 Trader Joe's mozzarella-cheese sticks. The cheese was delicious and worked alongside a tasty, flavorful breading.
Just get a hearty marinara sauce, and you're well on your way to a satisfying appetizer. I also love that the cheese is a little stringy and firm, even after I've cooked it.
In the end, the mozzarella-cheese bites were the winner.
Overall, there are a variety of respectable contenders for the perfect appetizer. Almost all of the Trader Joe's foods I tried would require little to no oversight while cooking and would give any host more time to chat with guests.
But in the end, Trader Joe's mozzarella-cheese sticks came out on top. Not only are the cheese sticks a classic choice for any party but they're also easy to eat, simple to cook, and pack a wallop. The sticks I had sorely missed a red sauce but they were still delicious even without it.
I think the spanakopita and the pastry bites with feta and onion would also satisfy even the hungriest of guests. Both dishes had great flavors and included plenty of cheese.
The next time I'm choosing what to eat during a party, I know which appetizers I'm picking.
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