Mike Bennett — the Portland-based artist known for his cheerful street-side “slow down” signs and family-friendly pop-up art installations — entered the food and beverage industry somewhat serendipitously. In 2021, he opened a temporary exhibit in a St. Johns space next to a coffee shop; when Bennett decided to take over the space permanently, the coffee shop reached out about collaborating on a cafe. They opened the side-by-side gallery-cafe Wonderwood in the fall, with Wonderwood Springs serving fun coffee drinks, breakfast fare, and treats in a magical space that feels like it was drawn by hand.
“I took it on the way I always take on projects: How do I make this a fully immersive experience?” Bennett says. “How do people enjoy their food? How do I make paintings that people can sit on and eat on?”
Bennett is known for his art, but food remains a passion for him. Moving to Portland from Pennsylvania, he got to know the city through its restaurants and carts; after eating a burger from Mid City, he dropped off a cartoon burger for the owner, which became its mascot. “Eating is the thing I do when I don’t know what else to do,” he says. “You’d think it’d be art for me, but I love food, and it was a big reason moving to Portland wasn’t as scary as it could have been.”
Here, Bennett shares the place that have become his standbys, from his morning breakfast sandwich to his ride-or-die salad.
Breakfast sandwich: Delicious Donuts
“That place has become a comfort for myself and my wife; she has been going through some health stuff, and it has totally saved her in the mornings. It’s about the food, and also the welcoming nature of the people who own it. I get the breakfast sandwich with the hash brown patty on it; it’s like a hug. The hash brown patty just stays crispy — I’ll take a bite and go into a meeting, and it is still crispy afterward.”
Brunch: Jam on Hawthorne or City State
“As far as brunching goes, I have completely fallen in love with Jam. When my parents come to town, the first thing they ask for when they land is Jam’s Maddie Cakes. But recently I just discovered City State — I think it has the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life. My parents were here for two weeks, and I think we went three times. They kept asking, and it was easy to say yes.”
Lunch while painting: Nong’s Khao Man Gai (plus its neighbors)
“I feel like lunch happens in the thick of painting, so anything that allows me to use utensils is the way to go. The speed, quality, and general vibe of Nong’s has really scratched the itch for me, and the Souper Soup there is great, especially as the weather turns. It’s super dorky, but I had to go on TikTok live for five hours yesterday, and I was starting to lose my voice; Souper Soup is why I’m able to do this interview. That whole little complex there, with Nong’s, Snappy’s, and Kinboshi Ramen — if one’s busy, it’s never a bother to go to a different spot.”
Food carts: Mid City Smashed Burger or Prost Marketplace
“I fell in love with Mid City Smashed Burger. I got it a few times, and without them even asking, I made a little mascot for them and dropped it off. I get a nice little wave from them, so I try to stop there as much as I can. But actually I go mainly for the chicken nuggets — they’re stellar. I’m also a regular at basically any of the food carts at Prost, but I really love Fried Egg I’m in Love.”
Out-of-towner restaurant: Oma’s Hideaway
“It’s such a visitor pleaser. Everything they make there is so incredible, I love the different styles of dining between both Oma’s and Gado Gado; my wife’s parents, my parents, my friends all love it there. Our tradition is that we go to Oma’s Hideaway and then go to a Pickles game.”
Date night: Clandestino (with the option to wander)
“I know they just shifted locations, but the spot that has totally stolen our hearts is Clandestino. I just got goosebumps thinking about it. It’s just some of the most incredible food I’ve had. I don’t know, they’re doing something so special there. Similar to my Snappy’s comment, I mean, Gabbiano’s is right there, too. It’s walking distance from my house, so we’d walk there and then get Kulfi on the way home. If you anchor your car on Alberta and walk from there, you get a perfect little Portland night.”
Celebration restaurant: Nostrana
“My wife’s a synchronized swimmer, and she used to have to swim until 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m.; Nostrana’s late-night happy hour, it just completely hooked us. So birthdays, Valentine’s Day, we go to Nostrana. The Inslata Nostrana is one of my favorite things to eat, so even though they were closed, they made that salad for our wedding. Don’t get me wrong, I eat a lot more there, but if I’m not going to get that salad, what am I doing?”
In St. Johns: Wonderwood’s neighbors
“I have to do a shout-out to my St. Johns neighborhood — Pastificio D’oro has been my neighbor with the Wonderwood project, and it fueled me through the intense build-outs. Maggie’s salad dressing is next-level. Pairing that with a trip to the Garrison? That’s a special night for sure. I’m excited because we’re about to do a little Halloween makeover at Wonderwood, so I know I’ll be out there a lot. I think I’ll be seeing a lot of Sparrow for breakfast, Tienda Santa Cruz burritos for lunch, and Pastificio d’Oro for dinner.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.