Welcome to Silicon Valley’s Koreatown: the portion of El Camino Real that runs through Santa Clara and Sunnyvale. Barbeque, beer and chicken are the heart of the food culture here. Korean fried chicken is known for its double-fried crispy skin, and a few outstanding restaurants have been known to draw crowds when it comes to this popular snack. Why? It’s tough to master.

Challenging these established chicken joints is newcomer Vons Oven Chicken, a restaurant chain import from Korea, which offers an oven-baked version and a boneless Ssam dish—two healthier options not available at other restaurants.

If any restaurant could benefit from the Chipotle “customize it yourself” style menu, it would be Vons. Deciding on basic things like size, flavor and cut of chicken can be confusing as the menu lists the information in different sections. On my two visits here, I have had waitresses explain the menu to me at length, and I will likely need an explanation with every visit. Aside from this, once the order was placed, it came out promptly and we enjoyed our food in a clean and well lit dining area with mostly white Ikea-style furniture.

A full order of Ssam chicken came with 20 boneless pieces plus two small bottles of beer as part of the package ($28.99). The juicy chicken pieces are flavored with Vons special sauce, a sweet and tangy Asian barbeque flavor. A side of thinly sliced white radish pickled into a pink color is used to wrap the pieces of chicken. Julienned bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, cucumber and sprouts are decoratively served on the plate. Ssam means wrapped, and after the chicken and vegetables are rolled, it can be dipped in a sweet chili or barbeque sauce. I chose to eat mine plain to enjoy the Vons special sauce on the chicken. Ssam is a healthier and more fanciful take on fried chicken, with a portion size large enough to share. The vegetables break the monotony of the fried saltiness in the meal.

The regular fried chicken is the true test of a well-made Korean chicken wing, because the crispness from double frying is more apparent when not slathered in sauce. Vons offers a crispy version and a crunchy version. A half combo of crunchy fried wings and drumsticks ($10.99) came out hot and as advertised. The breading was plain, although not oily. On a separate occasion I had the crispy wings, which were one of the better crispy fried Korean chicken wings I’ve ever had.

For the full garlic chicken combo ($19.99) we opted for a mix of drums and wings. The crispy double-fried skin was smothered in a savory sauce that made a great pairing with a side of white rice. These garlicky parts were by far my favorite of the meal. All chicken orders came with cubes of pickled radish and a side of coleslaw. The coleslaw was not memorable but did make for a good respite from all the salty chicken. The pickled radish, which is a staple of Korean side dishes, was a little on the sour side and the pink color felt gimmicky. Nonetheless, a pickled radish is still just a pickled radish.

Vons’ clean but generic decor and luminescent lighting are definitely that of a chain restaurant, but the flavors are surprisingly remarkable. While Vons special sauce is not outstanding, the crispy fried chicken, garlic chicken and Ssam chicken are worth the visit. The portions are large enough for sharing—exactly the point of fried chicken and beers. Vons is a welcome addition to our unofficial Koreatown.

Vons Chicken
1082 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale