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Happy Falafel reincarnated as Xerxes

Good news for people who loved the long-defunct Happy Falafel — it’s been reincarnated as Xerxes Mediterranean Grill on the south end of Siskiyou Boulevard and it still features falafel, along with lots of other Mideast dishes.

Owner Ben Pazzira calls the spacious business a “groceraunt,” meaning it both serves dishes cafeteria style and it also has shelves with groceries — olive oil, preserves, juices, chips and the like.

The bright yellow Siskiyou Cyclery adjoins Xerxes. The jaunty Pazzira, a bike-lover who owns both businesses, including the buildings, says he sees them as starting and ending spots for fueling your bike journeys, allowing you to both build up and satisfy an appetite. Bikes can be even rented there for those who’d like to drive.

A goal is to keep prices reasonable, as with Happy Falafel, and his low overhead helps with that, he says.

For $7.99, you’ll find falafel, gyros, chicken with tzatziki (yogurt sauce) on naan (flatbread, but not a tortilla), and Greek salad with olives, feta, onion, tomato, cucumber and romaine.

For $2 more, you get “The Bomb,” which is gyros with extra meat (lamb), fries and spicy sauce inside. For $11.99, you get “the F-Bomb”: gyros with extra meat, falafel balls, fries and spicy sauce. Tandoori Chicken (organic), grilled veggies, tzatziki and naan are $14.99.

Salads include chicken Caesar, quinoa (with mushrooms, garlic, onion, sun-dried tomato) and Tabbuleh salad (couscous, cuke, tomato, red onion, garlic. Greek fries have feta and garlic. Baba ganouj (roasted eggplant) is $4.75.

Pazzira, 53, learned to cook such dishes at his mother’s knee in Persia, as he calls Iran, and immigrated at age 14, finishing high school at his sister’s house in Kansas City. In fact, he was just here visiting when the Shah of Iran was overthrown, bringing chaos and a fundamentalist regime he didn’t want to live under. He got his MBA at Pepperdine University and worked in management for Hewlett-Packard in the Bay Area, semi-retiring here in 2003.

“I wanted to retire somewhere with nice people and a clean environment — and affordable compared to the Bay Area.”

Pazzira is self-financed and has built slowly over the years.

“I wanted to contribute to society and provide jobs,” he says. “I’ve never laid people off. That’s important to me, to invest back in the business and in people. I operate on a low margin. You have to have passion and the right reasons to run a business. It has the look and feel I want.”

The restaurant is named for Xerxes (pronounced Zerk-sees) the Great, a famed king of Persia and much of west Asia, all the way to Greece, which repelled his invasion in the 5th century BCE.

It’s at 1729 Siskiyou Blvd., open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more, visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Xerxes-Mediterranean-Grill-860973497414817.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.