there’s no better one-stop shop for frozen appetizers than Trader Joe’s. Wander down their freezer aisles and it’s a smorgasbord of internationally-inspired handheld foods. From gyoza to samosas to mini-pizzas to mini-tacos, if you want to serve it, Trader Joe’s has it on hand for you to pop in the oven or microwave and serve to your family and friends. But are these frozen apps up to snuff? To see whether or not these foods are worth serving, we went to a Trader Joe’s in Brooklyn and picked up 10 boxes of frozen appetizers. Then, after cooking up the appetizers in a toaster oven and microwave, we had a mini cocktail party in our office with 10 attendees. They ranked each appetizer on a scale of 1–10 on three metrics: taste, presentation, and “eat-ability” — i.e., how well each item can be held in your hand and eaten without making a mess in the middle of a party. The rankings were then tallied up and each appetizer was ranked on a score out of 30 total.
Some appetizers were positively delicious and have made it on the menu for our future dinner parties — and a few were quite disappointing. In essence, not everything looks like it does in the picture once you pull it out of the box, so beware!
These were far and away the most disappointing appetizer of the bunch. Despite the outside layer crisping up nicely, it stuck to the pan, making it hard to pick up and hold, and the inside phyllo was doughy. The insides didn’t fare much better and were described as “watery,” “gluey,” and “mushy.” “I have high spanakopita standards. These do not pass,” one taster wrote.
These ranked high on presentation (No. 4), thanks to the inserted lollipop sticks, which were noted as “handy” by some taste testers, while the chicken fell of the stick for a few eaters, making it ninth lowest in eat-ability. The taste was less than stellar, with a chicken “mush” that disturbed more than a few testers. “I hate these <3,” one reviewer noted.
One of the more fun options on the menu, the mac and cheese bites exploded during the cooking process, as will often happen with cheese-stuffed appetizers. This gave them the lowest ranking on presentation. Nobody likes deflated balls! Though the reviewers all agreed that cheese is always a great addition to any party menu, the macaroni filling in these appetizers was oily and likened to “a cheesy lipgloss.”
Everyone loves a mini pizza, right?! Eh… kind of. Despite high expectations, these tiny cheese pizzas came out of the box with sparse amounts of sauce and cheese that spread all across and off the crust, giving these a ninth place finish in presentation. While some loved the fluffy, white crust, others called these “bootleg Bagel Bites.” Divisive, to say the least.
These tiny pigs in a blanket scored high in eat-ability and fifth out of 10 in presentation, thanks to their puffed up pastry that was oh-so neatly rolled around a tiny frankfurter. However, these scored ninth on taste and were described as greasy galore by more than half of the taste testers. Others thought the beef tasted fake, and some thought these simply needed more parmesan cheese. So, if you’re looking for style over substance, these may be a good appetizer for you.
A classic party appetizer and one frequently bought pre-made, the spinach and artichoke dip scored reasonably well on both taste (No. 4) and presentation (No. 3). Though it was a bit melted and melded together, it looked pretty much like, well, a spinach and artichoke dip! Described glowingly as “creamy,” “buttery,” and “mild” by some, others thought this dip was “watery” and “too salty.” The dip was served alongside Trader Joe’s Restaurant Style White Corn Tortilla Chips.
Apparently, mushrooms are a divisive food, with one taster describing them as “evil.” Others ranked these high, with 8s and 9s. The mushroom turnovers ranked highest on eat-ability, thanks to their compact pocket size, which made them incredibly easy to pop into your mouth. However, they fared far less well on presentation; they’re beige and unassuming. “They taste so much better than they look!” one taster wrote. “The dark horse of the appetizer taste test.” But vegetarians beware! These seemingly veggie-friendly appetizers contain gelatin. Our vegetarian taster said these were from “Traitor Joe’s.”
Described as “cute” and “eatable,” these vegetable samosas ranked second highest on eat-ability and third on presentation. However, at a retail price of $2.99 for a box, these samosas are more dough than filling. A common thread among tasters held that, despite decent spice, these were “disappointingly doughy.” But their portability and size led to one reviewer calling them “a good standby.”
A favorite around The Daily Meal office, these bite-sized tacos ranked No. 1 on taste with a glowing 8.9/10 average. “Tacos = always good,” one reviewer wrote, while another said these are simply a “nice taco.” However, if you’re looking for a taco that looks exactly like the one in the picture, you may be disappointed. When pulled out of the box, the tops of the tacos are pinched together, presumably to keep the toppings in the shell. But it leads to a less-than-stunning presentation.
And the winner is… potstickers! Despite being beige and a bit plain on the outside, these Asian-inspired appetizers ranked No. 1 on presentation, which many agreed would be improved upon with a gyoza dipping sauce placed in the center. The gyoza also ranked high on taste, coming in just slightly behind the tacos with an 8.3/10. “Yum!” and “Delicious!” two tasters noted. While some worried about the eat-ability when paired with a dipping sauce, most felt the overall package was worth it.