My wife had taken a Monday off recently and I decided to take her out for lunch somewhere in Davenport. I had read about a new-ish Mexican restaurant on the lower west side of the city by the name of Nally's Kitchen. We'd heard good things about the place and it sounded interesting enough that we decided to give it a try.
You'd have to call Nally's Kitchen a diverse multi-cultural culinary destination because owner Nassr Muhammad was born in Brazil to a Palestinian father and a Brazilian mother. As a young boy, Muhammad made empanadas - Latin pastries with various fillings such as beef, chicken and pork - daily with his mother and they sold them to various stores and schools in his home town located in the state of Mato Grasso in western Brazil. His father taught him the recipes of his Eastern Mediterranean homeland. Nassr Muhammad basically spent his youth in a kitchen when his friends were outside playing.
Nassr Muhammad emigrated to Chicago in the early 80's and he used his background in making empanadas with his mother to find work in a couple of Mexican bakeries in the Chicagoland area. One bakery he worked at made primarily pita breads while the other featured Mexican breads and pastries. Muhammad loved the baking business so much that he ended up opening his own bakery specializing in empanadas and churros.
While working at his bakery in Chicago, his best friend introduced Nassr to his younger sister, Alicia, who grew up in Mexico and had just arrived in the U.S. three months prior. Alicia had said as a young girl that she was going to marry a Brazilian man someday, and within a week Nassr had asked her to marry him. She said yes and looked forward to raising a family in the United States.
Needing to do something more than running a bakery to provide for his growing family, Muhammad eventually became an over-the-road truck driver before he decided that he didn't like being away from his family for long periods of time. The family eventually moved to the Quad Cities in 1999 as Muhammad found work on the assembly line at John Deere in East Moline.
Pictured right - Alicia and Nassr Muhammad. Photo courtesy Quad City Times.
When Muhammad was laid off in 2013, he decided that he didn't want to go back to John Deere. Instead, he went back to his first love - cooking - and the he decided to try his hand at the multi-ethnic foods he learned in the kitchen over the years. He and his family - including two daughters and a son - manned food tents at local events and festivals. Confident that he could pull off a restaurant venture, the Muhammad's opened Nally's Kitchen in the summer of 2014. Mexican food is the main stay at the restaurant, but the Muhammad's will also do Mediterranean and Brazilian foods upon request for catering jobs. His son, Fernando, helps out in the restaurant while Alicia still works as a meat-slicer at nearby Oscar Mayer during the day, but helps out at night. 15-hour days are the norm for the Muhammad family at Nally's Kitchen.
Nally's Kitchen is situated in what was a former Maid-Rite location along Rockingham Road on Davenport's west side. (see map) We got into Nally's around 1 p.m. and there was a sizable crowd in the place having lunch when we first walked in, but it thinned out precipitously while we were eating. The place isn't all that fancy, but they do have some Diego Rivera prints on the walls of the well-lit dining room as well as a handful of flat screen televisions.
You order at the counter at Nally's Kitchen and they bring the food out to you. The menu is on the wall behind the front counter and it features your typical Mexican fare - tacos, enchiladas, burritos, fajitas, tortas, gorditas, pork tamales, and - of course - empanadas filled with your choice of chicken, beef, ham, potatoes and chorizo, cheesy bacon potato, or cheese steak. They also feature two items that we don't see on menus at many other Mexican restaurants in the Quad Cities - guisado, a Mexican-stew featuring potatoes, with either beef or chicken, and served on tortillas; and guaraches (also known as huaraches) which is sort of a Mexican-style pizza that originates from Mexico City. It's topped with a hot or mild salsa, onions, potatoes, cilantro and a choice of meat including chicken, seasoned ground beef, steak chunks, roasted pork, al pastor, or beans, then finished with fresh crumbled chihuahua cheese.
We started out with an order of chips and salsa which Nally's Kitchen charges $3.50 for. We did like the salsa - it had thick chunks of tomatoes along with chopped cilantro and onions mixed in. The chips tasted fresh, but we were a little perplexed why they would charge for what is usually just given as a opener at most Mexican restaurants. While the salsa was very good, we didn't think it was worth $3.50 for a starter.
My step-daughter is married to a Mexican national who is also a cook and he told us one time that you can always tell how good a Mexican restaurant is by trying their tacos. And that's what I did - I went with a steak taco, a carnitas taco and a roasted al pastor pork taco. Each of the soft-shelled corn tacos were made in-house and were warm and fresh. The tacos were topped with chopped tomatoes and shredded lettuce and finished with crumbled chihuahua cheese. I thought I had ordered them "Mexican-style" with just chopped onions and cilantro, but this is what was brought out to me.
My wife went pretty basic, as well. She went with a chicken taco and a ground beef enchilada. Her taco came out "Mexican-style" as we both like our tacos with plenty of chopped onions and cilantro on top. The enchilada was in a small plastic bowl and topped with a red enchilada sauce and a bit of cheese.
Now, I really wanted to like my tacos at Nally's Kitchen, but I can't really say that I did. I thought the steak was overcooked and rather tough. The pork on both the carnitas and al pastor tacos was rather drab in taste and sort of dried out. I thought I'd had better tacos in and around the greater Quad Cities area.
My wife, too, thought the chopped chicken chunks on her taco were dried out like the chicken had been sitting in a warming bin too long. She did remark, however, that the chopped onions were strong in taste and the cilantro was fresh. She thought her enchilada was just "all right" as it was filled with ground beef and potato chunks. I had a bite and the beef was seasoned in a nice way, but I didn't care for the sauce they used on top.
We have a handful of friends who have told us about how good the food was at Nally's Kitchen. But we have to say that on this visit we were none too impressed with the tacos or the enchilada we were served. We thought $3.50 for a basket of chips and what turned out to be very good salsa was a bit overboard, and the meats seemed to be drab and overcooked. We really wanted to like Nally's Kitchen, mainly because of the Muhammad family's great story of how their restaurant came to be. But based upon our visit this day we'd have to say that there are better alternatives for Mexican food in what is already a broad Latin restaurant community in the Quad Cities.