photo credit: Jack Li
You can drive around Lincoln Square a dozen times and not be aware that Jibek Jolu is there. It’s small, and the perpetually shut blinds make it look like it’s never open. But like your block's street cleaning schedule, this BYOB Kyrgyz spot is absolutely worth knowing about.
The inside of Jibek Jolu looks like a yurt, perfectly setting the stage for the Central Asian menu. Support poles extend to the center of a domed ceiling and meet at a fake smoke hole, while colorful textiles and lattice decorate the tan-colored walls. Those always-closed blinds shut out the outside world, allowing you to pretend you’re inside a friend’s cozy home surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Tables are far enough apart so that a spilled drink one table over won’t end up tie-dying your shirt, but close enough that you can stealthily glance at their food for some ordering inspiration—and there are a lot of delicious Kyrgyz dishes to be inspired by.
Since Jibek Jolu is on our dumpling guide, it’s no secret that we’re enamored by their beef pelmeni covered in a garlicky cream sauce, or that when we can’t fall asleep we count their beef and onion manty instead of sheep. But when we take the dumpling goggles off, there’s still plenty to appreciate. Like rice and beef dolma made with herbaceous grape leaves or kuurdak with juicy pieces of sauteed lamb, beef, or chicken calibrated to have an ideal amount of spice. And the bosso lagman’s hand-pulled noodles have such a fantastic soft chew it feels like each tooth is getting a gentle massage every time you take a bite.
The food is exciting, but the overall atmosphere here is very calm. There’s no loud music or bustling crowd, and the most action nearby is whatever is going on at the crusty Hertz across the street. There might be regulars sharing a bottle of wine that they brought, or a couple trying out one of the city's only Kyrgyz restaurants for a quiet date after work. And after a meal here, you’ll be wishing there were more.
These tiny little dumplings can be fried or steamed and filled with chicken or beef, but after multiple very scientific trials, we’ve determined that our favorite iteration is steamed with beef. It's bathed in a savory garlic cream sauce, and is garnished with fried shallots that add some crispiness. These are a must-order for the table.
Savory beef and pillowy rice are rolled with grape leaves tight enough to impress Snoop Dogg himself. The grape leaves have a firm and chewy texture, and add a hint of tartness to balance the saltiness of the filling.
Each order of manty comes with five plump hacky-sack sized dumplings, which means they’re great for sharing—or ordered as an entree (something we 100% recommend). The steamed dough is slightly thick, which helps to hold in all of the peppery ground beef. It comes with a tart red pepper sauce that complements the flavor of the meat.
We’ve liked every iteration of this dish: chicken, beef, or lamb. The smoky, salty meat has a robust savoriness with only a hint of spice, so your inner Scoville meter won't go haywire. It also comes with tender pieces of potato and onions that help balance out the richness.
We haven’t checked with Jessie White’s office, but we’re pretty sure you’ll get a citation if you visit Jibek Jolu without ordering this. The hand pulled noodles are soft and chewy, and absorb all the flavor from the juicy chunks of beef, vegetables, and spicy soy sauce.