Usually, when you see an alleyway displaying eclectic art that’s tented by a blanket of large fake butterflies, you can be pretty sure you’ve stumbled upon an Instagram-bait pop-up museum, like Umbrella Alley in San Francisco. But if you’re in Riverside, California, about an hour east of Los Angeles, you probably stumbled upon Tio’s Tacos, a Mexican restaurant with so much bright, funky, life-sized artworks decorating the patio that it doubles as an open-air art gallery.
@foodwtf Quirky #diningexperience with eccentric artwork at 📍Tio's Tacos in #Riverside #California 🌮 It's a Mexican eatery with recycled art sculptures all created by the owner! 🎥 @Jasmine #foodie #foodietok #mexicanfood #uniquedining #riversideCA ♬ Halloween ・ cute horror song – PeriTune
Tio’s Tacos is the brainchild of Martin Sanchez, who’s both the chef and artist behind the unique space. Sanchez moved to California from Michoacán, Mexico, in the mid-1980s and opened his now-beloved taco spot a few years later in 1990.
Sanchez’s motivation for creating an art-filled space was twofold: to open a Mexican restaurant in Southern California that stood out among its peers, and to repurpose used and discarded items to create something new and beautiful. The artworks on display at Tio’s Tacos are made from recycled materials ranging from empty beer cans, bottles, and bottle caps to old furniture, license plates, mannequins, and toys. From that, Sanchez has created a wide variety of statues and sculptures — even a chapel constructed of empty bottles that he built for his wife. Practically every inch of the property is covered with recycled art.
“I always say my dad is an organized hoarder,” his daughter Stephanie Sanchez, who now helps run the restaurant with her sister Kimberly, told KTLA in 2020. “We have some customers who sat [sic] for hours and never want to leave.”
But at the end of the day, Tio’s Tacos is still a restaurant, one with a menu that extends far beyond tacos. Diners can get everything from breakfast items like chilaquiles and huevos rancheros to lunch and dinner fare like smothered burritos, fajitas, sopes, quesadillas, enchiladas, ceviche, and a long list of shrimp dishes. Much like the materials Sanchez sourced for his artworks, it appears he cooks with just about every traditional ingredient imaginable.
Where: 948 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA 92501