Best things to buy at Trader Joe’s, according to pro chef Jae Lee

Will Kreznick

Trader Joe’s has a loyal customer base that includes professional chefs. Jae Lee, chef and owner at Nowon, shared his favorite Trader Joe’s buys with Insider. The professional cook loves the retailer’s frozen foods as well as snacks like corn and rice puffs. Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories. It’s […]

  • Trader Joe’s has a loyal customer base that includes professional chefs.
  • Jae Lee, chef and owner at Nowon, shared his favorite Trader Joe’s buys with Insider.
  • The professional cook loves the retailer’s frozen foods as well as snacks like corn and rice puffs.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It’s no secret that the aisles of Trader Joe’s are filled with goodies perfect for snacking and building inexpensive meals — and even professionals aren’t afraid to express their love for the store. 

Jae Lee, chef and owner of New York City’s Nowon restaurant, shared his top five picks from the store with Insider to help readers get the best deals and maybe try something new.

A post shared by Trader Joe’s Addicts (@traderjoes.addicts)

2 of Lee’s frozen food favorites pair together for the perfect quick dinner

When it comes to frozen foods, Lee loves the brand’s Mandarin orange chicken, which costs $4.99 for a 22-ounce bag. 

He told Insider that it “tastes just like your local Chinese-American take-out spot on the corner.”

“Damn, I do wish the chicken was all cut more uniformly,” the chef said. Though he says there are typically some “random, very little pieces” mixed in with larger chunks of meat, Lee also says the dish as a whole “is properly done — very well-made.”

trader joe's frozen rice

Trader Joe’s sells multiple types of grains frozen in the same microwavable packaging.

Geri Lavrov/Contributor/Getty Images


Lee especially loves to cook up some of the chicken alongside brown rice he also picks up at Trader Joe’s. 

The rice comes in a box of three portioned packages ready to be cooked in the microwave and costs $2.99 per box. 

“Poke a few holes [in the portioned bag] and microwave two-and-a-half to three minutes — delicious,” he said. “It’s slightly seasoned and tastes fresh even after being microwaved. It’s brown rice that tastes so good.”

Brown rice is known for having more nutritional value than bleached white rice. So Lee says this was a great buy for him since he started paying more attention to the food he puts into his body, calling the brown rice “perfect for 30-year-olds that finally realize health is wealth.”

Lee suggests pairing the two together, turning the frozen goods into a feast: “Eat [the orange chicken] with your TJ’s brown rice and some steamed florets of broccoli — you got yourself that meal!”

Seltzer Water and Hummus

Tabbouleh-style hummus (left) and flavored seltzer water (right).


Courtesy of Rebecca Chu



But frozen foods aren’t the only thing Lee loves at Trader Joe’s

Lee’s Trader Joe’s haul also usually includes tabbouleh-style hummus ($1.99 for an 8-ounce container), jalapeño corn and rice puffs ($1.99 for a 5-ounce bag), and seltzer water flavored with lemon and ginger juice ($2.99 for a 4-pack of 12-ounce cans). 

Lee says the hummus is “so damn good over toasted whole grain wheat bread and an over-easy egg.”

The corn and rice puffs are an organic product, which is something Lee says he loves about the snack. “So you feel good about eating half a bag,” the chef said. “And it’s also gluten-free, yasss!!!” 

The seltzer water is also organic, and Lee says it tastes like there is fresh lemon juice and ginger juice in the drink making it “very damn delicious!”

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