Hello, truffle flatbread.

By Paul Schrodt
May 29, 2019
Paul Schrodt for Money Magazine

Trader Joe’s is a paradise of frozen food—that doesn’t taste like frozen food.

The grocery store prioritizes ready-to-eat items, and over the years, has excelled at developing frozen meals that will fool your taste buds into thinking you ordered takeout from your favorite place down the block.

As with most items at Trader Joe’s, it’s also very hard to beat the prices of these flash-frozen products. I’m a regular customer at my local Trader Joe’s in Los Angeles and have scoured and tasted my way through the aisles. While not everything is a gem, there are a few under-the-radar treasures worth trying.

Here are the best buys in the Trader Joe’s frozen-foods section that can be found for $5 or less—and that you’d even feel confident serving guests.

1. Kung Pao Chicken, $4.99

It’s rare to find a Chinese frozen dish at Trader Joe’s that packs real heat, but you’ll get it when you dig into this version of kung pao chicken, especially if you bite into a whole dried pepper. Trader Joe’s doesn’t skimp—and even includes a package of peanuts to sprinkle on top.

How easy is it to cook? All you need is a stovetop and to follow the package directions. Pair with rice.

2. Chinese-Style Pork Buns, $3.49

Also known as cha siu bao, this addictive type of Chinese pork bun might be challenging to find if you’re not at morning or afternoon dim sum service at a Chinese restaurant. Unless, of course, you happen to grab the four-bun frozen package at Trader Joe’s. I’ll confess the dough doesn’t live up to fresh, homemade bao, but they still deliver. Plus, they’re so filling, two basically equal a meal.

How easy are they to cook? Steam over a pot of boiling water or on a steaming tray in a rice cooker, according to package instructions.

3. Thai Shrimp Gyoza, $4.99

Trader Joe’s is a secret dumpling paradise, if you know where to look. Your first stop should be these impeccable frozen Asian-influenced dumplings. Try to overlook the confusing name—they’re called Thai even though gyoza is a type of Japanese dumpling. Featuring juicy shrimp coated in sharp ginger, these gyoza come in a one-pound package (equaling about 15 gyoza).

How easy are they to cook? Steam over a pot of boiling water or on a steaming tray in a rice cooker, according to package instructions.

4. Chicken Tikka Masala, $3.69