REVIEW: Jibarra Modern Mexican & Tequila Lounge

Eating Mexican food at an old train depot may not sound like the thing to do when celebrating the birthday of one of your best friends. It doesn’t really sound like a good way to celebrate the birthday of someone you barely know. However, the birthday celebraish for one of my best friends that took place at a Mexican restaurant in an old train depot turned out to be a great night.

Jibarra, a modern Mexican and tequila lounge located in the historic Raleigh Depot, is best places that I’ve been since I moved to Raleigh since August ’11. It offers a variety of upscale Latin American food ranging a variety of guacamoles, chef specialties, tacos and salads for dinner as well as a top shelf cocktail and tequila menu.  They also offer separate brunch and lunch menus which are lower priced.

The restaurant moved from North Raleigh to downtown Raleigh in 2008 after several nightclubs closed down and has been a huge part in revitalizing the area since its move. It is joined in a great neighborhood food scene by places like 5 Star, Humble Pie, Poole’s Diner and The Pit.

We started out the night with a pitcher of chipotle-mango margaritas for the table. It was definitely a little emasculating to be drinking such a pink drink in public but my feeling went away after the first sip. It was overly sweet but the salt & chile piquin on the rim and chipotle in the drink balanced the drink perfectly. The price tag on the pitcher is steep but it was a high quality drink. We ended up getting two but you can’t put a price tag on memories or lack thereof.

We ordered an appetizer of queso dip and added chorizo to it. It is really hard to take a picture of cheese dip. I’ve tried to do it at various places and it never turns out looking as good as it tastes. This was a great cheese dip and the addition of the jalapenos and chorizo added a lot of outside flavor. Unlike many places, the chef or line cook made the right decision to strain most of the grease out of the chorizo before putting it in the cheese. This is a simple step that is often skipped at places and can ruin the dip. It was fairly inexpensive ($5) which kind of blew my mind because it is comparable to most other run-of-the-mill Mexican places.

Brock ordered the Camarón BLT tacos which have shrimp, avocado, crisp bacon, lettuce, tomato & “michelada” sauce. The michelada sauce is based on a common Mexican cocktail made with beer, lime juice, and assorted sauces, spices, and peppers. I believe that their sauce was just a michelada that was reduced and thickened into a sauce or just used the base ingredients of the drink to make a sauce. Brock was nice enough to offer me one of his three tacos and I can’t turn down a taco. It was good. The shrimp were pretty small for an $18 dish but the flavors made up for it plus I love bacon and shrimp together. The black beans and Mexican rice were hefty portions and made three tacos and a side a pretty filling meal.

I ordered the Birria de Borrego which is lamb osso bucco comes with yucca mashed potatoes covered in a birria sauce and tomatoes. The term, “birria”, comes from a region in Mexico and is a meat stew typically made with goat, lamb or mutton (or “borrego”). Jibarra’s version of the dish is not soupy at all in presentation although it may have been cooked that way. The osso bucco is served on top of the yucca mashed potatoes and then covered in the au jus or en zumo or in its own juice depending on what language you want to go with.

The term, “osso bucco”, is Italian meaning bone with a hole. I know…too many different languages right now. The hole should contain bone marrow which is considered a rich delicacy by some but probably disgusting to everyone else. Some people will try to pull it out with a knife but the easiest and probably least polite way is to slurp it out. The meat fell right off the bone as it should and had the perfect tenderness. The meat also had substantial flavor from the birria and that char that gives meat so much more flavor.

The birthday boy ordered the tacos de arrachera which consisted of grilled skirt steak, cilantro, onions, grilled scallions, chiles toreados  and guacatillo salsa. The picture doesn’t really help sell them. The steak just doesn’t look crispy enough to me. I did split one of the tacos with Brock and it was good. I would have gone with corn tortillas which you probably already know about me if you read any other post about tacos by me on this blog.

Editor’s Note: This could actually be tacos al pastor which commonly has grilled onions and is cooked differently then the steak. Actually…I am pretty sure that it is now. I marked through the crispy reference above because it makes more sense now. However, I still would serve them with corn tortillas.

Liz ordered a salad which doesn’t seem to be on their current menu and Jo Beth ordered the fish tacos which were delicious but pretty effin’ spicy. Neither of the pictures of their dishes turned out very well.

I’m currently waiting on another special occasion excuse to be able to go back down to Jibarra and try some more of the chef’s specialties. Would I order the tacos? Probably not. I feel like a local taqueria would come close to matching the taste for almost a fifth of the price. I want to try their herb-crusted chuletas (pork chops) or their pato (duck) en fig mole or just go one more round with the osso bucco. If I am going to be spending upwards of $20 on something, I will be getting something crazy delicious.

Don’t get me wrong though. Their tacos are great but my wallet and my conscience just won’t let me do it.

Jibarra on Urbanspoon


I am the founding blogger of Eat It, North Carolina. I started Eat It, North Carolina because I am always looking for awesome, local restaurants in different places around North Carolina but have never been able to find one place on the Internet that lists them. I'm a recent graduate from East Carolina University & currently live in Greensboro. I like all types of food but am a sucker for Chinese and greasy spoons.
Charlie Brinson
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