“Are we there yet? Did we pass it?” “I’m pretty sure this is one of those places you can’t miss.” I was right. Tio’s Tacos is enormous, spanning the better part of a block in two directions, and would be almost impossible to miss even if you weren’t looking for it. It was actually harder to find the restaurant itself among all of the art installations than it was to find Tio’s Tacos in all of Riverside’s downtown.
A sign on the property informed us: “Martin Sanchez is a proud Mexican immigrant from Sahayo, a small town in the state of Michoacan. He is grateful for this country, the United States of America, which he now considers his own and to which he arrived at a very young age with lots of dreams, and just like many other immigrants who have seen in the U.S. the hope of a better tomrorow. The poverty which he lived in during his childhood gave him the idea of finding a use for the things that have been utilized, and in this country considered useless, then discarded. Although for him and many that come from poor countries, these items are considered treasures; with his ingenuity and creativity, he has rescued them and given them new life. Come and taste the delicious flavor of our traditional & real Mexican cuisine, while you enjoy and appreciate one acre of amazing and beautiful gardens, created entirely from recycled items, waste material, and junk. See for yourself how the genius and profound creativity of Mr. Martin Sanchez, owner of Tio’s Tacos #1, has transformed them into beautiful pieces of art.”
This artist’s statement almost makes me a little tear-y for a number of reasons. I take for granted all of the things that I have access to every day of my life by virtue of being born here, and all the things I discard for whatever reason. I get frustrated with American politics and the state of things and forget sometimes that others can see it as a beacon of hope and opportunity, not just the world’s chest pounding policeman. It makes me extra embarrassed and sad that one of the candidates for the highest office in the land is seriously proposing building a wall to keep out people who want to contribute to the American melting pot, who do view America as that beacon of hope. It’s not Mr. Sanchez’s job to teach me perspective, but I’m glad he gave it to me nonetheless. His artwork reminded me of that of another outsider artist I visited some time back, RichArt, who also made all of his work from repurposed materials.
There was so much to see that even though it was threatening to sprinkle, I wanted to eat outside on the patio to take more of it in while I ate–because frankly, I don’t think it’s possible for me to go to a Mexican restaurant and not eat something, even if it’s just a snack. Jason and I ended up splitting a carne asada taco and an al pastor taco, both of which were so delicious I wanted to weep a little…or was that the rain? I also bought an agua fresca and laughed when the flavor I chose turned out to be their “detox” flavor. Mint, cucumber, and lemon without a whole bunch of added sugar sounded great to me already, there was no need to try and market it as weight loss water. The only detox I’m interested in is the Taco Cleanse…and not that BS taco cleanse where you eat crummy vegan tacos, but a taco cleanse that involves eating al pastor until either I die or I just plain don’t want to eat it anymore. Casa Bonita, you have a serious contender for the most exciting Mexican restaurant in the world…and the food at this one is good. BE TOLD.