The must-hit spots along Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis’ vibrant Uptown neighborhood

Image by Andria/flickr

By Aubrey Schield

As a teenager growing up in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, there was an unspoken agreement among my circle of friends that stated the following: Uptown is the coolest area in the Twin Cities, and we will dedicate our babysitting money and barista tips to fancy nights out on the town as frequently as possible. We will also move into one of those old duplexes someday when we can afford the rent.

Since then, I’ve come to realize that Minneapolis and St. Paul are home to many wonderful neighborhoods that are each unique in the things they have to offer—restaurants, outdoor attractions, museums, etc.—and simply in their ambience. In fact, many Twin Citians are now looking to Northeast as the “new Uptown”. While I’m a huge fan of the microbreweries and St. Anthony Main scene, Uptown will always have a special place in my heart.

I guess this article is my “Ode to Uptown”—really it’s my favorite way to experience this area of the Twin Cities. Starting from the northern end at the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and 24th Street with Spyhouse Coffee, let’s work our way south for the ultimate Uptown experience.

Spyhouse Coffee Roasting Co.
Located in an early 1900s brownstone on Hennepin Avenue, Spyhouse has what has long been my favorite cappuccino in the Twin Cities. As a former barista who worked for national chains (no offense intended, Caribou), I love watching the folks behind the counter craft coffee beverages like artists. Yes, it’s a bit pricier than bigger names and your wait time might be longer than in the drive-thru of a Starbucks, but, for my money, it’s worth it.

Nico’s Café and Tequila Bar
Don’t be fooled—this house sandwiched by Namaste Café (amazing Indian) and a bank chain isn’t just another Uptown abode. It’s the home of Nico’s Café and Tequila Bar. If the weather is warm, sit outside on their quaint patio under string lights as you chow down on anything from their extensive food menu. Enchiladas, tostadas, tacos, nachos—honestly, you can’t go wrong. To make your Nico’s experience complete, be sure to order a house margarita, made with selections from their laundry list of 100 percent agave tequilas.

Sencha Tea Bar
Back in the day (when I was in high school), this tea hotspot was known as the Tea Garden. Despite the name change, Sencha remains as popular today as it was all those years ago. And for good reason. Read our review of Sencha here.

Orange and red kayaks on the shore of a lake with people in life jackets.

Wheel Fun Rentals kayaks on Lake Calhoun. Image by Erica Loeks

Chain of Lakes
Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun rest on the western edge of Uptown. These lakes are part of the larger system known as the Chain of Lakes, a prized possession of Minneapolis for all outdoor enthusiasts. Offering miles upon miles of paved walking, running and biking paths, as well as boat slips and recreation rentals (check out Wheel Fun Rentals for paddleboards, kayaks, paddleboats and more), it’s the ultimate nature expedition only a few steps from the vibrant city.

Magers & Quinn Booksellers
Step inside this bookstore in the heart of Uptown’s shopping district (located around the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street), and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into the Beast’s lavish library from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Magers & Quinn is my favorite bookstore to spend an hour or two (or more) in because of its extensive selection of both new and used volumes. Just when you think you’ve explored the entire store, you’ll realize there’s an entire back section with vaulted ceilings and tall bookshelves like the ones in your university’s library. It’s a quiet spot to read the first few pages of new additions to your home anthology, and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable. I love perusing books with a coffee in hand, so, if you’re like me, swing by Dogwood Coffee Co. across the street beforehand.

Chino Latino
Owned by the same folks who brought you the huge pasta portions at Buca di Beppo and delicious cuts of steak at Pittsburgh Blue, Chino Latino features foods from the hot zones of the globe—Central and Southern America and Southeast Asia, mainly. I love coming here with a big group of friends and ordering a couple items from both the “Little Dishes to Share” menu and the “Bigger Dishes to Share” menu. The prices aren’t too friendly at first glance, so sharing is a great way to keep everyone’s bill in check. And when it comes to mixology, Chino Latino can’t be beat. I’m partial to the El Orgasmo (as a teenager I was forced to order the non-alcoholic “Fake Orgasmo”, which, admittedly, always made me blush). NA or not, the drink is a delightful slush of pineapple served in the fruit itself. Another favorite is the Crack Ho Mohito, which comes with vials of blackberry, strawberry and passionfruit puree, so you can mix up your own, err, cocktail.

Stella’s Fish Café & Prestige Oyster Bar
By day a gourmet seafood restaurant. By night a dance club. On the weekends, Stella’s is the place to be for a night of getting jiggy with it. Enjoy 2-for-1’s on Saturday nights and explore the second level of the restaurant, which has a separate room with live DJ as well as a space for live music with local bands playing on the regular. Weather permitting, don’t miss the rooftop for an unparalleled view of Uptown and the city that lies beyond.

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