This is one of my favorite eye candy places to go in Riverside, CA. It is a tiny taco restaurant, and looks like any old tiny taco house, but once you step inside its walls, everything around you is art, all of it made from trash, literally.
Folk artist, Martin Sanchez created Tio Tacos Dream Garden, expanding out from his restaurant to the whole block and back courtyard, filling the whole area with junk art sculptures, towering garbage giants, and and a church made out of bottles.
This is absolutely one of my favorite places to wander. I cannot imagine that anyone can go in here and come out feeling gloomy.
In 1984, when Sanchez immigrated from the village of Sahuayo,
in the state of Michoacan, he was shocked by what people threw away. “I don’t throw away nothing for 18 years,” he says. He doesn’t plan anything ahead, but will suddenly get a creative bug, and perhaps create a 20 foot-tall wire figure with two years-worth of cans.
When he first came to Riverside, he sold peanuts and ice cream in the park before he bought a hot dog cart in 1989 and began to sell tacos outside of Tio’s Tacos. He bought the restaurant and the clapboard house next door in 1995, which became his family home. The adjacent parking lot and house, currently used for storage and a gift shop, was purchased in 2000. His creations include more statues on the roofs and on top of palm trees.
Sanchez built his chapel out of multi-colored bottles and other recycled materials as a gift to his wife, Concepcion. The chapel, which was consecrated by the Catholic church, has water springing from its walls and a ceiling painted like a miniature Sistine. Light filtering through the bottles gives a stained glass effect. Today the chapel is used for weddings, quinceaneras, graduations, and just private quiet moments.
Tio Tacos is located at 3948 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501, 951-788-0230. It is right down the street from the historic Mission Inn, another of Riverside’s wonderful stories just waiting for you to visit.