Tio’s Tacos artist uses scraps to create immersive art for his local Mexican restaurant

By Sayeda Ghazanfar
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Jerome Wong | Viewpoints

Fascinating figures filled with discarded propane tanks and empty bleach cartons tower above you in a terrifying allure, drawing you in with outstretched arms.

A gigantic skeleton rides a bicycle to your left, greeting you with a sinister smile. Up ahead, a massive teepee made entirely out of recycled bottles and concrete invites you to come inside if you dare.

You are about to enter another dimension; a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition; and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.

You are now entering… The Twilight Zone.

Well, while not quite exactly the cult classic of the 1960s, this alternate dimension known as Tio’s Tacos comes pretty close to the same macabre, imaginative, and moral depictions.

The first giveaway that this strange place is, in fact, a restaurant, are the people eating outside on the front patio. Otherwise, to an outsider’s perspective, it is a funky museum of sorts filled with people’s trash and unwanted items.

Tio’s Tacos is a Michoacán Mexican restaurant serving Riverside since 1990. It is replete with unique artwork. The Día de los Muertos theme is alive and well throughout the entire layout. There are so many tiny details that are easy to miss the first time around. The beauty of Tio’s is that you can visit over and over again and still not have seen everything — especially with daily renovations and newly added artwork.

Yolanda Sanchez, long time employee for Tio’s Tacos says people from all over the country travel to Riverside to view the artwork.

“A lot of people come over here just to look around,” Sanchez said. “They can come and enjoy the nice environment. After they walk around, they get hungry and they can come to the front and eat.”

“I like the skeleton riding a bike,” Sanchez said after deliberating on what her favorite piece was. “Right now they’re building something very cool.”

This hidden gem is the pride of Martín Sánchez. At a young age, he and his family immigrated from a small town in Sahuayo, Mexico in hopes of a better life. Sánchez came to this country with nothing but a dream and a knack for turning unwanted, discarded items into pieces of art. 100 percent of the art at Tio’s Tacos is made with recycled items, junk and trash.

Although, while looking at these works of eerie creativity and strange imagination, the last thing to come to mind is trash. The beauty of the looming creations, which often look like unconventional, giant sized people, comes through clearly despite the materials used to create them.

Sometimes we visit places for the novelty factor. Often, if there’s some big gimmick, the food leaves something to be desired because the focus is on the main attraction. However, Tio’s is the exception. The authentic and traditional flavors that they offer are next to none. We can expect much more out of Tio’s Tacos soon. Here you can have your enchilada and eat it, too.