TJ’s vs. Takeout: Fried Rice

Spoiler alert: Food from a local restaurant will always be better than food from Trader Joe’s. That being said, sometimes you don’t have the funds to eat out and need a delicious, filling meal for a couple of bucks. In this series, we’ll find out if Trader Joe’s rendition of a dish will get the job done or if it will just make you miss the real deal even more.

This week we’re trying two different fried rice options: Trader Joe’s fried rice and Panda Express fried rice. Can the popular heat-at-home Trader Joe’s fried rice outdo the Panda Express fried rice in taste, price, or convenience? We tried both in a side-by-side taste test to find out!

Takeout: Panda Express Fried Rice (~$4.60 + tax for a medium container)
Fried rice is one of six options as the base for your plate at Panda Express and it is easily the most popular (at least that’s what the Panda Express employee I asked told me). It consists of white rice, soy sauce, eggs, carrots, and green onions. The flavor is salty and a little oily in the best way possible. The egg is soft and fluffy. The peas and carrots are perfectly cooked. This is some dang good fried rice.

That being said, I feel like there should definitely be more stuff in it. In my takeout container, I found very little egg or green onion. I think more bursts of the other flavors would be a welcome addition to the white rice and soy sauce. And, as always, a downside of any item not cooked at home is the inconvenience and cost. You must put on pants and interact with other people to get takeout. Sure, you can get delivery, but delivery fees are truly nuts. Before you know it, you’ve spent $35 on a medium carton of fried rice.

Trader Joe’s: Trader Joe’s Vegetable Fried Rice ($2.99 for 16 oz)
Trader Joe’s fried rice is cheap and the bag is huge. That already feels like a win. Luckily, it also tastes great! The flavor is more subtle than the Panda Express fried rice. Plus, it includes way more stuff. TIt has carrots, edamame, corn, green peas, leeks, and red bell pepper. It’s flavored with soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, onions, seaweed, salt, and sesame oil. The taste is light but complex. The texture is much more interesting than the Panda Express fried rice because there is so much more stuff. After trying this, I will forever crave edamame in my fried rice. There are so many things in Trader Joe’s fried rice that it could be eaten as a meal and not just a side (something you can’t say about the rice from Panda Express).

Is more always better, though? We all agreed that the red bell pepper was unnecessary. Sure, I’d throw some chopped red bell pepper into homemade fried rice if I had one in my vegetable drawer that was getting wrinkly and needed to be used. I don’t know, however, if the flavor of red bell pepper really adds anything to fried rice. I’ve never seen a real Chinese restaurant put red bell pepper into their fried rice. Plus, you have to cook this fried rice yourself. I threw some into a bowl and microwaved it. I didn’t cover it as the package suggests and it got completely crispy and dried out. Yes, I know, I made it wrong. But I’m cooking store-bought fried rice in a microwave! This is happening because I’m feeling lazy and want something quick in as few steps as possible. I made another batch and covered it while it cooked and it was better. At Panda Express, though, I don’t have to do anything to get great fried rice.

Conclusion: Panda Express is the winner here, but only by a very small margin. Unlike some of our other TJ’s vs. Takeouts, both of these products taste really, really delicious. Panda Express fried rice, however, has that sesame oil-y taste you want from fried rice. Plus, we loved the fact that it has egg in it. But if you simply can’t bring yourself to leave your house, are trying to save money, or are looking for a vegan option, Trader Joe’s store-bought fried rice will definitely do.

About the Author

Jordan Myrick

Jordan is an L.A.-based writer and comedian who believes all food should come with extra sauce. When they're not writing for Sporked, Jordan is at the movies or sharing an order of french fries with their elderly chihuahua.

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  • Since you need oil to cook TJs fried rice….use sesame oil….when the rice is about 3/4 done, add a beaten egg….you’ve got it all….without going out!