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Review: Nine Dragons in Epcot’s China

Today, we’re heading to the Far East — or rather, just past Norway and Mexico — for lunch at Epcot’s Nine Dragons!

Are you afraid to venture inside this eatery because you’ve heard less-than-stellar reviews? So were we.

Though we did a review way back when (not bad, not great), this blog is all about second chances; so back to Nine Dragons we went! :-) Is it better, worse, or holding steady, you ask? Read on and we’ll explore together.

Atmosphere

When you walk into Nine Dragons, it actually feels kind of swanky since the (now long past) refurb. (Remember when it used to be all red shag carpet? No? Yeah, it probably wasn’t, but that’s what it felt like.)

The views through the front picture windows will remind you that you haven’t left Epcot behind. I love the view of the World Showcase Lagoon, and I wonder if this spot wouldn’t be bad for Illuminations viewing… anyone have experience?

View of World Showcase from Inside Nine Dragons

Seating and View of Outside

This is a beautiful restaurant, and we really enjoy the surroundings here. As I mentioned, there have been some renovations, as well as some changes to the menu, which suggest that you might want to give this spot another look if you haven’t eaten here lately.

Inside, there are three main dining areas separated by decorative wooden screens. The lovely, airy sunroom is flooded with light, and trimmed with dark wood and vibrant shades of red and green.

Seating and Decor at Nine Dragons

Dining Room Seating

The inside dining areas are lovely, but I feel that tables are a bit tight together.

Seating and Decor

The mirrors and square patterns made from dark wood beams on the ceiling give the space a clean structure and sense of order. Note also the different carpeting with its ornate pattern in the two rooms. It’s worth paying attention to, because it’s a lovely detail that shows just how thoughtful Imagineers (Decorators?) are when they are creating a space.

Additional Seating and Decor

I’m not sure whether they are new, or I’ve just never noticed them, but the round booths are fun and a really nice touch. These would probably be my second choice next to a window table as far as seating goes.

Booth Seating with Round Table

One of my favorite decorative touches are the shaded “lanterns” throughout the entire restaurant, and this grouping in the middle of the inside dining room is especially beautiful. The softly vibrant colors and shape of the shades offer a nice focal point to the room.

Beautiful Lighting Decor

One of my favorite things about Nine Dragons are the placemats. I know…strange, but true. They feature examples of Chinese calligraphy, with space to practice your own character drawing. Fun and educational. This place is Epcot, through and through.

Place Setting

But we were hungry, and so are you, so let’s head to the menu.

Eats

We started, of course, with beverages.

Top Half of Beverage Menu - Click to Enlarge

Bottom Half of Beverage Menu - Click to Enlarge

My husband chose a bottle of Tsingtao, one of his favorite beers. He enjoys it a lot, and frequently orders it when we go to our favorite local Chinese restaurant. Soft and bright, this Chinese lager has a subtle sweetness to it.

Tsingtao Beer

There are some really alluring cocktails at Nine Dragons! With names like “Heavenly Clouds” and “Ginger Zinger,” it was a tough choice to make. Ultimately, I settled on the Jade Beauty.

It was fine, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I expected a little more flavor, but I was really left with a lingering impression of melon liqueur. Not unpleasant, but I wasn’t rushing to order a second one.

Jade Beauty Cocktail

Nine Dragons offers a really excellent prix fixe option for both lunch and dinner. Their Treasures of the Dragon menu includes three courses for a set price, and is also available to guests using the Disney Dining Plan. (Be sure to confirm this if you have an upcoming Advanced Dining Reservation, however, since the rules of the 2013 DDP say that it doesn’t cover prix fixe options.)

I love the interesting options here, and it may save you a little money.

Lunch Specials - Click to Enlarge

Dinner Specials - Click to Enlarge

However, we wanted to try some of the other options, so we ended up making selections from the standard lunch menu, which also includes a combination meal called the “Lunch Box.” More about that in a bit.

Lunch Menu - Click to Enlarge

We were really interested in the appetizers (as always — when have you known us NOT to order apps?), so we tried a few different options.

I went with the Chicken Consomme with Pork Dumplings. Similar to a standard wonton soup, I really enjoyed this. Both the consomme as well as the dumplings were flavorful.

Chicken Consomme with Pork Dumplings

But perhaps my favorite dish of the entire meal was General Tso’s Dumplings. Omigosh, these were amazing! Steamed dumplings filled with a flavorful mix of chicken savoriness are served with a yummy Chinese barbecue sauce.

General Tso's Dumplings

The next time, I am a) SO getting this as an entree; and b) SO not sharing.

General Tso's Dumpling - Inside

Next, we sampled the Shrimp and Chicken Egg Rolls. Another hit! Substantial chunks of chicken, shrimp, peppers, and more are wrapped in a perfectly fried wrapper.

Two sauces create ample opportunity for dipping, and the tender crust reminded me of the old fried apple pies from McDonald’s! Remember how yummy those were? Sigh. The good old days.

Shrimp and Chicken Egg Rolls

For my entree, I chose an option from the Lunch Box portion of the menu. Basically, this is a nice way of saying you get a combo-meal. As you can see, my consomme was accompanied by Mongolian Spiced Chicken; and the plate also included a large piece of Sesame Bread.

The chicken was good, but I wanted it to have a little more flavor than it did. This would fall into the category of “perfectly adequate.” It didn’t stand out, but it didn’t offend me, either.

Lunch Box with Mongolian Spiced Chicken

My husband chose the Canton Pepper Beef, which was also “fine.” Neither of us were wowed by it, but for hungry park-goers, it will do.

Canton Pepper Beef

We decided to skip dessert this go around, because we weren’t particularly tempted by the selections. I had sampled the Caramel-Ginger Ice Cream at a previous Epcot Food and Wine Festival and found that it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Likewise, I’m not a huge fan of the Strawberry-Red Bean Ice Cream, but given the choice of the two, I prefer it. With its big chunks of strawberry, that’s really the flavor that shines through.

Here’s a couple of pics of the ice cream for your viewing enjoyment! Of course, at Nine Dragons, they’ll be served in dishes vs. the containers shown here.

Strawberry red bean ice cream

Ginger Ice Cream

Overall

Nine Dragons probably doesn’t top anyone’s “I Must Go There” list, and, frankly, it still doesn’t top ours, either.

But that’s not to say that you should shy away from it. The dining room is beautiful, the service was quite good when we were there, the apps are great, and the entrees are fine, making this a solid choice for a sit-down lunch or dinner while at Epcot. It’s not bad; it’s just overshadowed by the plethora of fantasticness that is dining at Epcot.

So go ahead. If you have a craving for Chinese while at Walt Disney World, or you need a last-minute ADR, give Nine Dragons a try. And order those General Tso’s Dumplings. Because you must.

Have you tried Nine Dragons? Let us know your favorite dish in comments below!

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21 Comments

  1. Sarah cameron says:

    Haven’t tried this one yet. But who knows, maybe one day we will!! Like you said there are soooo many awesome restaurants there to choose from. Thanx for all the great info and review. Will def have to try those General Tso’s dumplings one day.

  2. Jill D says:

    Great review. We agree Nine Dragons is good but not great. If we crave Chinese Food while at WDW, we head to Lotus Blossom next door and enjoy almost the same good food as in the table service. Also they have better desserts to choose from and the service is incredible. You can not find a cleaner quick service restaurant on property!
    Thanks again!

  3. Gwen says:

    There needs to be authentic Chinese food there, not food intended specifically for American diners. If Japan can stick to their authentic portions and such, why can’t China? You would never see dimsum for dinner for a start! And you can’t just serve one thing and call it dimsum, it would have to be a variety of little samplers, akin to tapas.

    They could have very well done a hot-pot (steamboat) as well… though I wonder if the fire code might prevent such, but that would truly be an authentic Chinese experience.

    Being Chinese and a food snob, I would never, ever waste my money there. Unless there was hot-pot. Then it’s game over.

  4. Kim says:

    We have ate here and thought it was good. Not somewhere we would make an ADR but somewhere we would eat if we found ourselves in Epcot without any plan. I really like the red bean strawberry ice cream and it is beautiful and quiet inside the restaurant which is nice to find at the World.

  5. Anastasia says:

    The round booths have been there since 2009 at least.

    I’ve eaten here twice for the candlelight dinner package (when I’ve waited to long to get an ADR >_<) and it is very pleasant. Actually when I ate there last year we saw Neil Patrick Harris (he was the celebrity narrator that day) walking throught the restaurant. So cool! :-D

  6. Shayne says:

    Ahhh, Nine Dragons — the subject of debate every time our ADR date approaches. Should we or shouldn’t we? I love the refurbed interior, but I wish they had not dumbed down the menu as much as they did. I liked it better in the old days.

    Like you, we feel that the food here is ok — not terrible, but not great. And with so many other really great options in Epcot (and so much good, authentic Chinese food where we live), it’s hard to use up a spot in our restaurant rotation for this. It is a good standby, though, if you have a hankering for Chinese and/or aren’t otherwise committed to another restaurant and looking for a last-minute dining spot.

    We last ate there in 2009. I had the same dish as your husband, and found it perfectly mediocre. Others in our party had some really good dishes — like the Fragrant Five-Spice Fish. So it was hit and miss in the same meal.

    We had a table closer to the center of the restaurant, but with a view straight out the window, and Illuminations is viewable (though slightly obstructed) from Nine Dragons. They even dim the lights and play the music, which I enjoyed.

  7. Alan says:

    This place is like some of the Disney restaurants, that while they have a stunning decor, have some trepidation with serving cutting edge food. They know what most folks expect and try to please as many people as possible. I usually bypass the Nine Dragons as while good, is not a whole lot different than the average take away restaurant. When I’m at WDW I crave the “different” – things I usually cannot find at home.

  8. Sherri Erwin says:

    Have never tried this one, but it is really pretty inside. Thanks for the glimpse. It might be worth a visit just to try the General Tso’s dumplings.

  9. Dana says:

    We have booked reservations here in the past, but have always ended up canceling them so we could eat somewhere else. The food always seemed like it would be okay, but why eat at someplace that’s just okay when you’re at Epcot??? Maybe someday, if we’re there with someone who absolutely is dying to try it. Otherwise, I’d rather make my ADR somewhere else.

  10. Miranda says:

    I really love the five spice fish, although on my last trip they had changed the makeup of the dish slightly, and while it was still really tasty, the sauce wasn’t as sour/sharp as it had been. I now make a similar dish at home to recreate it between Disney trips!

    And you’re right, those dumplings are delicious!

  11. Jim R says:

    This seems both unspectacular in offerings and exceedingly expensive for what they offer. We have never eaten there (although we love the quick service next door) and do not plan to eat there. WDW has way too many excellent choices to use a meal on this restaurant

  12. AJ says:

    Sarah — I’m hoping they’ll bring those to Lotus Blossom next door so I can get them without doing the whole sit-down thing! Fingers crossed!

    Jill D — Thanks for the Lotus Blossom review! I’ve got a review coming up on that spot soon, too! :-)

    Gwen — Ha ha! You’re done for with a hot-pot, eh? ;-) Thanks for your knowledgeable review.

    Kim — Agreed. The atmosphere here is really nice.

    Anastasia — Yeah; I think the booths might have come with that 2008-9 reno? They made NPH eat at Nine Dragons? Shocking.

    Shayne — Thanks for the update on Illuminations viewing! I’ll have to add it to my recommendations list to watch the fireworks!!

    Alan — Agreed. I do think they keep the options here a bit mainstream.

    Sherri — It is very pretty! :-)

    Dana — So true. There are many other wonderful places to eat in Epcot, so this spot is likely not on the list for many.

    Miranda — Awesome recommendation! Thanks!

    Jim R — Very true. Thanks for your comments!

  13. Gabriella says:

    When we go, we always order the same thing and are always happy with the flavors! We have a lot of authentic Chinese restaurants, including Dim Sum where we live (Vancouver, Canada) so we try not to compare it to those of course. We always get the potstickers, dumplings and egg rolls for our appies, kung pao and honey-sesame chicken for our entrees. You really can’t go wrong if you stick to the guest favorites! We’ll be going to Nine Dragons on our next trip in two weeks, can’t wait!!

  14. Lyn says:

    I really like Nine Dragons. But like most Disney restaurants the flavors tend to appeal to mainstream America without very sophisticated palates and thus the seasonings tend to be on the milder side especially with in-park locations.

    What I’ve found through the years is to amp up the flavor a visit outside of theme parks is a must.

    Would love to read your review of Sanaa!

  15. AJ says:

    Lyn — Thanks for your comment! I’m not sure that “enjoys spice and seasonings” is necessarily equated with “sophisticated palate.” Do you find (like I do) that some places even use spice and seasoning to cover up sub-par products and ingredients? I know I’ve had some incredible food at high-end restaurants (V&A, Napa Rose, California Grill, and non-Disney restaurants as well) that only had a touch of salt and pepper…and sometimes not even that. The quality of the food comes through on its own.

    That said, some Disney restaurants “phone it in” when it comes to creating innovative, tasty cuisine; and we CAN see a lack in the different TYPES of foods available in some theme park restaurants — though I don’t think that’s necessarily always a function of the clientele.

    You can see our most recent Sanaa review here: http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/2011/08/07/review-sanaa-at-animal-kingdom-lodge/. Is that a favorite of yours?

  16. Galloping Groumand says:

    I’m a very mild defender of Nine Dragons, and even as a mild defender I get grief when argued that it wasn’t that bad back in my RADP days (dating myself, I know). American Chinese food is practically a separate cuisine, and therefore they don’t have any relationships with many of the ingredients in the traditional dishes. The tastes are very foreign, but families at a theme park don’t want to eat something they don’t know. Nine Dragons understands this, so you get distinctly not Chinese dishes like General Tso’s Chicken and Chinese Chicken Salad. Or you get traditional dishes that substitute Chinese vegetables for American ones – like putting in broccoli, carrots, or green bell peppers .

    Where Nine Dragons fails is in where their recipes place the line. They aren’t quite American enough to be a good representation of American Chinese. They aren’t Chinese enough to be “exotic.” The menu could explain things more by highlighting “Traditional Favorites” and “American Favorites” instead of mixing up their recipes and substituting ingredients. Oh dear. I’ve just put together a whole fantasy menu in my head.

  17. chris says:

    Never been here, and this review didn’t do anything to change that. The menu seems meh and all over the place to me and I’m about 85th percentile twinkie.

    I’d love for Disney to farm out this spot for a Din Tai Fung franchise: great food especially the steamed soup dumplings/xiaolongbao, quick table turnover rate, and easy to add a cs/takeout option.

  18. Nancy says:

    Nine Dragons need to not remind people of Panda Express or any Chinese Fast Food places! Be more authentic. Highlight the different regions of Chinese cuisine. China is such a big country, with so many regions, offering food that were influenced by the environment that they live at, that not one type of Chinese food can represent China. This Americanized Chinese food is not who and what China’s people are. Maybe then, people will actually stop and enjoy their food, without thinking that they can get this type of food back home for way less or even outside the resort, along the I-4 stretch.

  19. Caleb says:

    You wondered if this is a good place to watch illuminations, and the answer is yes. My fiancé and I visited Nine Dragons one night and planned on catching illuminations on a different night so we didn’t care if we missed the show while having a late dinner. We had a table right next to one of the windows looking out at the lagoon and we had a great view of MOST of the show. While we could not hear the announcer, we could see all of the fireworks in the air, but due to standing crowds we could not see all of the stuff on the water. Overall it is a good viewing spot, very comfortable, and great if you have seen the show before, but I would not recommend this for anyone who hasn’t seen the show before or isn’t planning on seeing it again outside the restaurant because you don’t get the full experience from inside Nine Dragons.

  20. AJ says:

    Caleb — Awesome feedback! Thank you for sharing your experience!!

  21. Mark Hickson says:

    Funny but I have never eaten at the China Pavilion before and I have been going to Epcot since 1982. I think it is because I have lived near two Chinatowns (S.F. & Honolulu) and have been spoiled with killer Chinese cuisine. So for this upcoming trip I wanted to find someplace I have never done… and behold… The 9 Dragons is the only place left to do! (i’m avoiding the princess show at the Akershus, wanting the return of real Norwegian food).

    After your comprehensive review and the comments posted, maybe I’ll hit the China Booth at the food festival instead (Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce and Pickled Vegetables sounds great)!

    PS I know what the top places to eat are but how bout a bottom 5?

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