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Whatta Pair!

April 26, 2014


Riverside is home to many attractions, including the Mission Inn, UCR’s Botanic Garden, the Fox Theater and Mt. Rubidoux. But the one I return to most is Tio’s Tacos Mexican restaurant … and outsider art installation. I love the food and drink at Tio’s of course, but more often I go there just to view the always-evolving collection of structures and figures made of basura (refuse). Martín Sanchez, the man behind Tio’s garden of trashy delights, saves what most restaurants would waste and transforms it into sculpture. Towering over downtown’s Mission Ave. are two recent additions I call Adan y Eva (Adam and Eve). They stand at more than two stories, dwarfing passersby and cars alike, and stare wide-eyed in a northerly direction toward … San Bernardino?! Unlike their famous namesakes, this striking duo is naked from the waist up only. Waist down, they both sport snazzy patchwork bell-bottomed trousers and cowboy boots. Tasteful? Yes, the guacamole’s to die for!


Another departure, Tio’s A & E are two-faced; the better to peer over Mission Ave. and the restaurant’s parking lot simultaneously. This is the flipside of the first photo; Adam’s face is a work in progress.



Peer up into the pair’s chicken wire/metal fencing frame and you’ll note that their bodies are filled with an assortment of beer cans, liquor bottles and other throw-aways (click the photos once, then again, for a closer look). Their trousers are made of bulk food cans, cut open, reversed and flattened, while their boots are layered tin can lids; their belt buckles toilet seats. Faces and ears are painted lauan wood and their noses are orange traffic cones. Their Vegas showgirl headdresses are the tops of the palm trees the figures are built around. Both sport Christmas garland hair and Eve’s earrings are large plastic tequila bottles.



A prudish sort might take issue with Eve’s four ample (and gravity-defying) bosoms being displayed so openly … maybe posting the crucified Christ at her feet was a strategic move on Mr. Sanchez’s part.



Near to A & E, an amazing clown figure displays his acrobatic skill by doing a hand-stand. Made using the same framework as the larger couple, he’s filled with an assortment of items that includes plastic jugs, beer cans and bottles, and, most notably, thousands of oyster shells. Next to him, a barrel-headed mermaid strikes a pose. Unlike the clown, she’s mostly oyster shell-stuffed, and, like Eve, is topless. Not shown; her impossibly long and angular tail made of tin can lid scales.



A relatively new addition at the rear of the restaurant is this temple-like structure made of cement and beer bottles. The lower portion, which would seem to refer to Aztec pyramid designs, is separated by a clerestory from its domed top structure. Painted with symbols from Riverside’s past, including a rain cross and an orange, it’s finished with a decorative finial and more symbolic markings.



A decorative effect has been achieved through placement of colored beer bottles in the temple’s walls. Hanging from the domed top of the structure is a chandelier festooned with colorful bottle caps.



The temple was serving double duty as storage for Aztec festival costumes … a spiral etched into the concrete floor caught the light of the late afternoon sun.



Near the now-closed tiendita (store), a dia de los muertos (Day of the Dead) cycling figure waits patiently for the autumn holiday season to swing back around … Last fall he was a commanding presence on the lawn of Riverside’s Art Museum.



A Popeye figure scowls while modeling the latest in recycled couture: A contrast-collar bottle cap top and tin can lid flares. Pretty fashion forward, if you ask me.



Against a photo backdrop, a bit of accidental surrealism. Mexican TV figure el chespirito (Little Shakespeare) seems puzzled by his being captured in la mama‘s (mom’s) face opening.



A phoenix with bristling with feathers made of sheared tin cans seems to react excitedly to a new drink option.



Tio’s Tacos always seems to have something new in the works, a quality that’s helped it become more widely known. In fact the placard in the photo above listed at least a dozen publications and TV shows where it’s been featured. The wings shown were part of a promotion offering visitors a chance to be “part of the art” by taking a photo in front of them. I’m happy for Tio’s and think it deserves all the attention it garners, but at the same time I worry about this very Mexican local landmark and its future. I see evidence that it might be getting too big, its upkeep falling by the wayside. I noticed some favorite elements falling to damage and decay and, most disturbing, a reliance on machine-produced signage. Maybe it’s just change … and inevitable. Still, I worry. I would hate for this Mexican Tio (uncle) to change so drastically it would become something other than the colorful, amusing, artistic and, yes, often tacky, favorite I’ve grown to love since we moved here 8 years ago …


Tio’s Tacos is located downtown, at 3948 Mission Ave., Riverside, Ca 92501. Stop in, have a meal and a fresh-squeezed fruit juice or cervezathen take in the show.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2014 2:56 am

    Looks like a pretty unique place; and I love the use of recycled stuff.

    • April 26, 2014 2:58 am

      It’s unique all right, Angeline … and I hope it never changes in that regard. Thanks for commenting! 😉

  2. April 26, 2014 3:24 pm

    I haven’t been there in awhile, it looks like a lot has been added. I see a trip to Tio’s Tacos in my future.

    • April 26, 2014 4:37 pm

      There’s always more, WF. Whenever I feel out of control I go there and instantly feel better about my own junk collecting 😉

  3. April 28, 2014 1:24 pm

    What a great way to clean up the landscape of glass, cans, and whatever people throw out.
    It is a bit overwhelming, but colorful and whimsical. Your “junk” is tasteful and artistic. Wish I could visit Tio’s because I love guacamole.

    • April 28, 2014 2:44 pm

      MMmmmm, Guacamole … Val, Tio’s has the best guac and freshly-squeezed fruit juices … The junk sculptures can be a bit much, but I wouldn’t change them. They are true expression of creativity let loose — Mexican style!

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