Skip to content

Tios Tacos: Los Reciclados

June 28, 2010

Two heads, oyster shells

If anyone had told me I’d live walking distance from an outsider art enviroment — in Riverside — I’d have scoffed. If they added that this place would take the use of recycled materials to (sometimes) ridiculous extremes — right next door to Riverside’s Chamber of Commerce — I would have snorted derisively. AND, if they had said that I could get a killer plate of carnitas — with a huge goblet of the freshest of fresh-squeezed jugo de naranja — at this place, I would laughed in their face … But, I do, they do, and I can, and it’s one of the best kept secrets in town. I say it’s a secret because often when I mention this amazing environment, even Riverside long-timers don’t seem to know about it and have never been there. This place is a restaurant called Tios Tacos, and if it sounds over-the-top, it is! Just look above: this two-headed chef sculpture stands at the gate to the rear parking lot and is maybe 20 feet-tall and made of chicken wire, and loaded with what must be thousands of oyster shells; the heads are large wire baskets filled with crushed aluminum cans; their hats filled with bits of rubber foam; the buttons, more squashed cans. It’s a relatively new addition, and signals a new feature at Tios, that of the gargantuan human figure made up of, or filled with, cast-off objects. I call these figures Los Reciclados, or, the Recycled Ones.

Recycled innards, palm headdresses

Tios Tacos’ singular installations are the work of owner Martin Sanchez, with help from family and associates. Working on this ongoing art installation/compound for over 10 years, it’s constantly in a state of flux, with materials and features appearing on top of each other … here, one thing truly leads to another and the only constant is change. For this first of three Tios posts, I’m concentrating on these more-recent figures; future posts will deal with other elements on-site. Los Reciclados first came to my notice about a year ago, and have been popping up at regular intervals and in various states of creation. The double-headed chef piece was one of the first of these figures, and I admit I was agog when I first saw it. Just the effort involved with putting such a figure together boggled my mind, not to mention the generations of oysters that had to be shucked to fill its body (seafood is a specialty at Tios)! These two figures, above, look like a cross between Vegas showgirl and Native American warrior, and can be found inside the Tios compound overlooking a transit mall police station. She, on the left, is filled with detritus of every description, and is propped coquettishly against a superbly realized wall made of beer bottles in a diamond pattern. Her male counterpart, at right, stands jauntily against the same wall, held up by an old-fashioned Coke, but jam-packed with more beer bottles. Like the chef-with-two-heads, the basic forms of these figures are made of chicken wire, then filled. Similarly, a palm tree has been integrated into the design of each to provide stable support and a kicky headdress.

Playful gender specifics

At the rear of the compound, these figures stand a mere 10+ feet-tall, but are no less arresting. The female figure is comprised mainly of Barbies and lesser Barbie-lookalikes, with other girly toys filling in the remaining spaces. Hewing closely to the same gender-specific guidelines, the male is made up of all manner of boy toys. Despite their differences, both figures share an affection for concrete cowboy boots (I especially love the river rock-festooned version on the male). Unlike the previous examples, these Reciclados wear their materials outside their metal armatures. I would love to have one of these figures at the Rancho, but I’m not sure how it’d go over in the neighborhood — one of the neighbors has already warned that I should beware, lest I take the Rancho in a Tios-like direction!

Truly trash-y couple

More down-to-earth, not to mention earthy, this couple is just life-sized. Reflecting a certain ribald Mexican sense of humor, these Reciclados are actually fountains and display their boy/girl traits much more obviously. I must admit I was a bit shocked by these guys when I first saw them, but I guess I’m just an ol’ prude. Everytime I’ve seen people encounter them for the first time, they just laugh, finding them more hilarious than offensive. To get the full taste-challenging effect, the water, um, should be turned on …

Sacramental salvage

Maybe now would be a good time to go to the chapel on the grounds. This ingenious masterpiece uses many types of recycled materials in its construction and each of them contributes to its overall charming appearance. Along with ‘stained glass’ walls made of colored beer bottles, there are windows edged with bottle caps, rusted can lids used to create a scalloped roof edge and shingles for matching peaked cupolas, and concrete accessories and ornaments. At ground level you can see a project currently in progress: the poured concrete area between structures on the compound is being systematically covered by an intricate scrap granite mosaic. By the way: this is a consecrated Catholic chapel. So, if you’re imagined big day involves the cold-filtered-for-extra-flavor light of hundreds of beer bottles as you recite your vows, this is the place!

Ingeniously artful re-use

Looking at this close-up of the chapel wall and window, it’s easy to see the level of attention paid to every detail of its construction. The Tios compound is comprised of a two-story meeting venue/store, an old clapboard-sided house, the restaurant, the chapel, other smaller storage structures and a large covered rental patio for private parties; it also includes more (so many more!) sculptures, still more whimsical/bizarre installations and fountains, topiaries, succulent and cactus studded landscaped areas, and a stupefying faceted fountain/room complete with a maze-like floor, with water flowing through channels around embedded human skeletons (I have to speak to Sanchez about this one — I have questions). Now, you know why 3 posts are required to pay it justice.

Chief of recycling

One last Reciclado as we leave: a super tall Indian chief figure, two-stories tall, and brimming with several dumpsters worth of flotsam and jetsam. Metal tire rims, cans, bottles, two mannequin torsos, gas cans, football helmets, shoes, etc., fill this big chief’s body with intrigue. How my fellow townsfolk can live here and not know Tios for the landmark it is, is beyond me. It’s only a couple blocks from that other Riverside destination, the Mission Inn, although I will concede it’s worlds away in spirit and construction. We love bringing people to Tios, it’s always fun to see first-timers’ reactions to the phantasmagoria! (It’s fun for us, too, as there’s always something new to see.) ... Tios Tacos is located downtown, at 3948 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, Ca 92501. Stop in, have a meal and one of their fantastic freshly-made aguas de fruta, you can always walk it off taking in the sights.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2010 7:25 pm

    Oh my!

  2. Megan permalink
    June 29, 2010 12:09 am

    This place is amazing!!!! I definitely want to check it out when we visit S. Cal one of these days. Matti and I love outsider art installations.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      June 29, 2010 2:55 am

      Let’s meet over nachos and jugo de zanahoria!

  3. sharon permalink
    June 29, 2010 5:39 pm

    I don’t get to Riverside often, but when I do I never miss Tios Tacos. My favorite thing there is that beer-bottle chapel. I didn’t know it was consecrated, though. That makes it even better.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      June 30, 2010 4:28 pm

      Let me know when you’re in town next, Sharon, I’d love to meet you! R

  4. mattisalomaki permalink
    July 2, 2010 5:46 pm

    OMG you find the coolest stuff. Why cannot SoCal be more of a day trip. Keep finding these treats…I love them. Matti

  5. Melissa Bruner permalink
    June 23, 2013 4:59 pm

    How can i get a hold of Martin Sanchez?

    • reubix1 permalink*
      June 23, 2013 9:44 pm

      Hi, Melissa, I would assume you could contact Martin by calling Tio’s Tacos and asking for him. The number should be available online.


  1. Oddly Enough « Rancho Reubidoux

Leave a Reply to Loree / danger garden Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: