I may or may not have once mentioned my love for Trader Joe’s on a job application… for something completely not food-related. You can call me slightly obsessed with the specialty grocer. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of my love for all things Trader, whether it be Joe, José or Ming (so they can be a little racist sometimes, I guess…).

Magic happens behind those sliding doors. I promise you. Never mind the (mostly) organic and all-natural foods that fill the shelves. No, that’s what Whole Foods is for. Trader Joe’s is where you go if you want to browse for that bag of quinoa, but instead of finding it in an aisle of grains, it’s nestled between bags of lime & chili cashews and jars of spicy smoked peach salsa. Oh, and they probably all have pun-tastic names.

When you get over the amazing artwork on their omnipresent blackboards, you’ll realize that, holy shit!, that bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon? It’s only six buckaroos. This is probably what makes Trader Joe’s a haven for college students. That affordable price tag isn’t only for the 21+ part of the store, but extends to those artisan breads and nut butters as well.

So, to anticipate the arrival of a Trader Joe’s near campus sometime in the near future (finally!), Spoon went on a shopping trip to shine some light on scrumptious bites you should grab on your next trip to TJ’s, accomplished with a friendly budget of $25.

Cheddar & gruyère mélange cheese – $7.29 for 1 lb

Photo by Denise Lu

Find this gem in the dairy aisle along with all of TJ’s other block cheeses in all sorts of wonderful combinations. Each hefty block comes to a little under $5, and it’s plenty to last at least a couple meals. This one is a mild cheese that goes well with pretty much anything that needs a little creamy topper.

Dark chocolate bar: toffee with walnuts and pecans – $1.99 for 3oz

Photo by Denise Lu

Wow. Trader Joe’s has a truckload of different chocolate “series,” I guess you can call them, and each has a handful of flavors. This one is my personal favorite. It’s not overtly sweet and the earthy nuts tame the pops of toffee within the smooth chocolate base. Bonus: this pretty packaging is still tacked on my bulletin board somewhere.

Fig Butter – $2.29 for 11oz

Photo by Denise Lu

This is definitely one of the best buys at TJ’s. For lower than the price of a cup of joe, you can get heaven in a jar. As a medley of three different types of figs, this spread is the perfect balance between sweet, tart and nutty. Use it as you would any other fruit jam (on toast or with cheese) and immediately elevate your average jam from everyday to exotic.

Almonds, blueberries, cranberries, golden raisins trek mix – $3.49 for 12oz

Photo by Denise Lu

This is one of TJ’s cheapest trek mixes and it has all grounds covered. Three types of dried fruit to fulfill your daily vitamin needs and almonds to keep you going. Grab a handful to make it through the afternoon drag or sprinkle some on your morning oatmeal for a fulfilling breakfast. Also good in the dried fruits section: Turkish apricots.

Dark chocolate chunk and almond cookies – $3.99 for 13oz

Photo by Denise Lu

Find this tub of indulgence among the plethora of other cookie boxes piled on top of TJ’s frozen food section. These tiny bites are much more than your average cookie. They’re crisper and have hints of almond to add a zing to every bite. The chocolate chunks are decadent but aren’t too sweet that they overpower the cookie either.

Sesame melba round crackers – $1.99 for 5.25oz

Photo by Denise Lu

These crispy crackers are the perfect base for dips and cheeses. They’re neutral enough to go with any topping, but are also good right out of the bag for on-the-go snacking.

Dark chocolate almond toffee bites -$1.49 for 2oz

Photo by Denise Lu

These are my guilty pleasure. I never leave Trader Joe’s without grabbing a bag. Or two. The outer chocolate shell is soft and creamy and complement the crunchy almond perfectly. Then the toffee kicks in and it’s a party in your mouth.

Artisan demi baguette – $0.99 for 8oz

Photo by Denise Lu

Good bread can really make or break a meal. Good thing TJ’s has you covered with aisles and aisles of artisan choices. These mini baguettes are great for casual snacking with some cheese or jam (see above!). And for under a buck, you can afford to grab one for every meal of the week. Want some fancy sliced bread? Try TJ’s Tuscan Pane (pro tip: toast a slice for a crispy crust and a chewy center, perfect for sandwiches).

TOTAL: $20.82