Trader Joe’s Empanadas de Ropa Vieja Review

Trader Joe's Empanadas De Ropa Vieja box
Trader Joe’s Empanadas De Ropa Vieja box

Today on our international journey through Trader Joe’s Freezer aisle, we land in Cuba to taste Trader Joe’s Empanadas de Ropa Vieja! Trader Joe’s latest culinary venture, the Empanadas de Ropa Vieja, seems to have emerged straight from a quirky fusion food lab, where traditional Latin American flavors are given a Californian twist. This is the kind of product that raises eyebrows and curiosities alike, promising a taste of Havana with a side of hipster.

In true Trader Joe’s fashion, the empanadas appear to be an ambitious attempt to pack the soul of Cuban cuisine into a frozen, convenient, ready-to-bake package. The question is, do these empanadas deliver a flavorful fiesta, or are they just another aisle filler destined for the land of forgotten freezer foods? Let’s find out if they’re a culinary triumph or just a case of ‘ropa vieja’ lost in translation.

Let’s break down this crazy Trader Joe’s mashup straight from Cuba (or really from Florida if you read their website). There are two things going on here. First, there is Ropa Vieja which is a dish that originated in Spain and has spread through much of the Spanish speaking world. According to my research, there is nowhere else except in Cuba where it receives as much attention.

Trader Joe's Empanadas De Ropa Vieja back of box
Trader Joe’s Empanadas De Ropa Vieja back of box

What is Ropa Vieja?

Ropa Vieja, a quintessential dish in Cuban cuisine, is a vivid tapestry of flavors and textures, steeped in a rich history that stretches back to the Canary Islands of Spain. Its name, literally translating to ‘old clothes’, whimsically describes the shredded, tender strands of beef that are the heart of this dish, evoking the appearance of tattered rags. This succulent beef is slow-cooked to perfection, absorbing a medley of spices, garlic, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes, which meld together to create a hearty, deeply flavored stew. The meat becomes so tender and infused with flavor, it practically melts in your mouth. Often served over a bed of white rice, Ropa Vieja is not just a meal; it’s a celebration of cultural fusion, a symbol of home-cooked comfort, and a testament to the art of transforming simple ingredients into culinary magic.

Then part two is the fact that Trader Joe’s wraps the Ropa Vieja in an empanada made out of Cassava?!?!

Trader Joe's Empanadas De Ropa Vieja in the box
Trader Joe’s Empanadas De Ropa Vieja in the box

What is Cassava root?

Cassava, a root vegetable native to South America, has carved its niche as a staple food in many tropical and subtropical regions around the world. Known also as yuca or manioc, this tuberous plant thrives in challenging conditions, often where other crops struggle. Cassava’s starchy roots, resembling elongated, waxen potatoes, are rich in carbohydrates, making them a vital energy source in many diets. Beneath its rugged, bark-like exterior lies a dense, white flesh that, when cooked, transforms into a soft, mildly sweet, and versatile ingredient. It can be boiled, baked, fried, or mashed, and is often used as a substitute for potatoes.

Ok, we have some very tender beef stew wrapped in an empanada made out of cassava. What will Trader Joe’s’ think of next? Cassava is very popular in the Caribbean and South America. Although this is not a thing you would find in Cuba, there is no reason why a Cuban wouldn’t be thrilled to eat something like this. It’s like Ropa Vieja hot pockets!

Trader Empanadas de Ropa Vieja into the air fryer
Trader Empanadas de Ropa Vieja into the air fryer


There are two methods for preparing these Empanadas. First is in the oven at 350f for about 15 minutes from frozen. 

The second method is quicker and I think better for the cassava crust and that is in the Air Fryer! 350 F for about 10 minutes and no need to heat up the kitchen with that little air fryer!

Trader Empanadas de Ropa Vieja inside
Trader Empanadas de Ropa Vieja inside

Final Notes

Trader Joe’s has come up with some crazy ideas and this is one of their better ones. I had never heard of Ropa Vieja before and I am glad I did and will dig up a recipe. The genius of this is putting the Ropa Vieja in a cassava empanada crust. This comes in very handy as an appetizer in this form. I wouldn’t be ashamed to put this out as finger food for something like the Superbowl party with a cheesy dip or salsa (which I know aren’t traditional but neither is this preparation). I really thought the crust was perfect. Nice and crispy and it held together unlike so many other things like this that explode in the oven. The meat filling was seasoned well. I couldn’t actually see any bell peppers or any onions but I think because of the way it’s made, they are pretty much cooked into mush which is probably the way it’s supposed to be. 

I really enjoyed these Trader Joe’s Empanadas de Ropa Vieja a lot. Something you’ll probably never find in another store. Trader Joe’s knocks another one out of the park here. 9 out of 10 Bells!



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