Words & Deeds

From Korea to California to Boise: New ‘KFC’ chain opens here. It’s not what you think.

A new KFC just opened in Boise, but you won’t find Colonel Sanders behind the counter.

Vons Chicken made its Idaho debut last week. Located inside Mr. Wok restaurant at 650 S. Vista Ave., Vons serves what folks in the know call “KFC” — Korean fried chicken. Double-fried, flavorful and delectable, it’s a potentially shareable meal that might blow the Colonel’s mind.

Mr. Wok, which opened five years ago in Boise, offers a menu of Korean food such as teriyaki and bulgogi. But banners outside announce that it’s also a Vons Chicken outlet — essentially, two restaurants in one building.

Vons was founded in Korea. The chain made its American debut in Sunnyvale, California, in 2014, and then started expanding to other states.

In South Korea, fried chicken and beer is known as “chimaek” — a combination of the words “chicken” (chi) and “beer” (maekju). There are tens of thousands of restaurants there specializing in the pairing.

Vons sells both oven and fried chicken. At a recent lunch, I ordered Crispy Yang-Nyeom Chicken (pronounced “yahng-nyum”). It costs $13.99 for a half chicken or $26.99 for a full bird.

“This is what they eat with beer all the time if you go to Korea,” explained Joseph Kim, whose parents, Paul and Vivian Kim, own Mr. Wok and the Vons franchise in Boise.

Chicken comes with sides of coleslaw and pickled radish, the latter which complements “KFC” well. It took 15 or 20 minutes for my Yang-Nyeom Chicken to arrive. Oven chicken might take a bit longer, Joseph Kim said.

When ordering, you choose between all wings, all drums, boneless or a combo: three drums and four wings. After sucking down the meat, you drop chicken bones into a cute little bucket on the table.

Vons fried chicken varieties range from Crunch Fried Chicken ($12.99/$24.99) made with five-grain powder to Joseph Kim’s favorite, Crispy Fried Chicken with Honey Butter ($12.99/$24.99). Want to heat things up? Order the spicy version of Crispy Fried Chicken ($12.99/$24.99). It has a “light, flaky texture with a soy garlic glaze,” according to the menu. (It comes in mild or spicy.)

“Even my parents think it’s pretty spicy,” Joseph Kim warned.

Yang-Nyeom comes in mild or spicy, too. The spice sneaks up on you, but man, it is finger-lickin’ good. (Sorry, Colonel.) Sweet, kickin’ sauce covered the moist, decadent drumsticks and wings. Every battered piece had a satisfying, soft crunch.

You’ll use every napkin in sight. Prepare to politely wipe your nose if you ordered a spicy version of chicken. Cool off by grabbing a bottle of one of the Asian, domestic or craft beers available.

Half a chicken is beyond filling. Especially if you inhale an order of Honey Butter Fries ($6.99) before it arrives. Yes, inhale. The fries come dusted in honey butter powder. The powerful scent wafted across the table.

“I think it smells like Cap’n Crunch, actually,” a waitress said, chuckling. “But it definitely doesn’t taste like it.”

Nope. The hot, soft, sweet-yet-salty fries were almost like a dessert. (Cheddar French Fries sound crazy-addictive, too. Maybe next time.)

Born in Korea, Paul and Vivian Kim moved to Boise from California about two years ago. Idaho’s lack of “KFC” is a big reason Paul Kim decided to add a Vons to their restaurant.

“He figured there’s no Korean fried chicken here,” Joseph Kim explained. “In California, they have a whole bunch of competitors like Bonchon and 99 Chicken.”

Got a group of poultry-loving friends? It would be a blast to order all six fried chicken varieties at Vons, then swap pieces over brews. Or even grab some orders to go.

This “KFC” isn’t cheap. But it’s definitely not like the fast food that comes in a red-striped bucket, either.

Online: vonschicken.com, mrwok-boise.com.

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Michael Deeds is an entertainment reporter and columnist at the Idaho Statesman, where he also has been a sportswriter, entertainment editor and features editor. Deeds co-hosts “The Other Studio,” a one-hour music show, at 8 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.