A's List: Can’t get away for the holidays? No worries, these exotic new destinations will take you there

Guests enjoying Secret Sound, the new Polynesian-inspired cocktail lounge at Time Out Market Chicago.
(Photo: Matthew Lowell)

By Audarshia Townsend

Believe it or not, we’ve got even more fabulous new venues for you to check out as you navigate this hectic holiday season. What makes these restaurants even more spectacular than the last batch of spots I featured is that they will make you feel like you’ve embarked upon an awesome vacation. From a River North restaurant offering big fat Greek feasts to an award-winning chef’s three Mexican concepts in one, these globally inspired destinations will make you feel like a seasoned world traveler.

Avli's decor evokes the experience of summer in Greece. 
(Photo: Avli Restaurant Group)

Avli River North

This is the third concept from Avli Restaurant Group, with two previous Avli locations opening in Lincoln Park and Winnetka. The group’s founding partners are veteran restaurateur Louie Alexakis, Chicago sportscaster Lou Canellis and investor William V. Glastris, Jr., who’ve garnered quite a following since opening the first restaurant in fall 2018. The River North outpost is situated on two levels with fishnets spaced throughout the ceilings as a nod to the Greek islands. And overall, the décor is modern, evoking the experience of summer in Greece with contemporary whites, wood, stucco and brick. 

Menu highlights: Of course, there’s the Greek Feast, a family-style dining experience with a BBQ leg of lamb or red snapper served tableside. It’s one of the restaurant group’s signature items. Also highlighted are the honey and fig saganaki; house-made gyro sandwiches; and The OG Moussaka, a 1910 recipe of roasted lamb casserole with bechamel, eggplant and potatoes.

Seafood is a big part of the menu at Osteria Trulli. 
(Photo: Osteria Trulli)

Osteria Trulli (Arlington Heights)

Situated in a tiny, unassuming strip mall in an affluent area of Arlington Heights, Osteria Trulli could easily be overlooked as well. Its modest exterior belies what's inside: an authentic Pugliese restaurant owned by one of Chicagoland's most beloved Italian chefs. Chef/owner Giovanni DeNigris—who says he's retired yet he works at the restaurant seven days a week—is originally from the Puglia region. The interior reminds one of the type of restaurants you'll find in the Pugliese region with much of the foundation imported from the area, including the exposed brick walls, doors and hardwood floors.

Menu highlights: Though the menu is ever evolving, hand-made pastas, wood-fired meats, seafood and vegetables as well as pizzas cooked in the wood-fired oven comprise the menu at Osteria Trulli. Signature bites range from insalata di mare with marinated shrimp, calamari and octopus to Tartufo fave risotto with black truffle puree, green fava beans and ricotta salata.

Secret Sound at Time Out Market Chicago (Fulton Market District)

Nineteen of some of Chicago's most notable culinary artists have been tapped to participate in the Time Out Market, located in Fulton Market, with permanent stalls. Among them are the likes of Duck Inn’s Kevin Hickey as well as Thai Dang (Haisous), Brian Fisher (Entente), Brian Enyart (Dos Urban Cantina), Jimmy Bannos Jr. (Purple Pig) and Dana Cree (Pretty Cool Ice Cream), who boast prominent fixtures on the first level of the sprawling 50,000-square-foot food hall. Yet tucked away on the second floor is a Polynesian-inspired speakeasy by noted bartender Paul McGee. His Secret Sound cocktail lounge is dark and mysterious, with guests placing their drink orders at one window and picking them up at another.    

Menu highlights: There are 10 drinks on the menu at a time, including a few that are spirit free. The menu changes every three months as it features the season’s best ingredients.

Tzuco's tacos are part of the dinner and brunch menu, which occurs Friday through Sunday.
(Photo: Matthew Lowell)

Tzuco (River North)

What sets Tzuco apart from Carlos Gaytan’s previous Chicago restaurant (the award-winning Mexique was based in West Town) is that it is three concepts in one: Tzuco, Tales of Carlos Gaytan and Panango. The 110-seater Tzuco offers regional Mexico fare that's been elevated by Gaytan's classical French training. Tales of Carlos Gaytan reveals an intimate, 16-seat chef tasting room focusing on Mexican-French haute cuisine. And Panango is a fast-casual, grab-and-go concept rooted in the Mexican tradition of artisan bread-making.

Menu highlights: Brunch, which occurs Friday through Sunday at Tzuco, highlights some unique, yet approachable dishes: pan de muerto French toast with signature house-made bread, seasonal fruit, orange blossom foam, lime orange zest, whipped cream and chocolate; as well as pan-seared red snapper tacos served with masa azul tortillas.

Wynwood (Wicker Park)

Inspired by artsy Miami community Wynwood, Wynwood Chicago pays homage to its creativity as well as its whimsical approach to life. It's also appropriate that such a concept would find a home in the similarly art-focused neighborhood of Wicker Park. A mural along the length of the wall is a nod to both arts communities. From karaoke parties to a Monday night "drag" performance with female impersonators to a Moroccan-themed event, the nightly schedule at Wynwood aims to keep guests entertained.

Menu highlights: The food-and-drink menu is also Miami inspired. You'll find a Cuban sandwich, plus avocado toast, tacos and frozen signature drinks.

See previous A's List columns right here.