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Review: Lunch at Nine Dragons in Epcot’s China

Welcome back to Nine Dragons Restaurant in Epcot’s lovely China Pavilion! We’re visiting this Table Service restaurant for lunch.

It’s been a while since we’ve visited Nine Dragons. While we truly enjoy the beauty of this spot (and will provide a few more glimpses for you today), the food has never really elevated it to a “Must Go” spot. In fact, for some it has been a “Must Skip!” So, it’s time for another visit to see how things are faring, and what — if anything — has changed.

You’ll spot Nine Dragons immediately upon approaching the China Pavilion from Norway. I find nearly everything to be eye-catching in the China Pavilion. The outdoor colors of Nine Dragons echo those in the Pavilion’s entrance gate and the replica of the Temple of Heaven.

Nine Dragons Restaurant

Nine Dragons Restaurant

Nine Dragons Sign

Nine Dragons Sign

But we’re more interested by what’s inside, so let’s have a look.

Atmosphere

There is a definite change in the color palette upon entering the space. Dark and ornately carved woods are dominant in the décor, but the restaurant is peppered with fun and colorful lanterns that keep things from feeling too heavy or overwhelming.

Nine Dragons Seating

Nine Dragons Seating

Lanterns

Lanterns

Lanterns

Lanterns

The large windows also provide natural light along with some great views of World Showcase.

Seating near windows

Seating near windows

Even if you aren’t seated near a window, some of the glass in the walls serve to let in some of that light, while also separating dining areas.

Table for Two

Table for Two

While we’re on the subject of seating, I know many people have found this restaurant doesn’t offer much in the way of elbow room in regards to space between tables. We arrived at a rather off-time for lunch (2:00 pm), when much of the noon-time crowds had dispersed. So, feeling overcrowded was not my experience, but the potential for it is something you’ll want to consider when choosing a time.

So, what about the dragons? They’re incorporated into several spots around the restaurant! You’ll find artistic dragons throughout the restaurant, from the beautiful green-glass wall at the check-in

Glass etching in entrance

Glass etching in entrance

… to the ceiling in the same area.

Look up!

Look up!

And they can be spotted in the dark wood entrance and exit of the dining area.

Check-in area

Check-in area

Woodwork

Beautiful woodwork

You’ll also want to check out the wall nearest to the kitchen in the central dining area. Because seating in Nine Dragons is divided up into separate sections, you may miss it, so be sure to take a stroll at some point during your visit.

This wall is where you’ll find… what else? Nine Dragons :) .

Display of Nine Glass Dragons

Display of Nine Glass Dragons

All nine of these glass sculpture dragons are truly beautiful; but out of respect for your time, I’ll just give you a glimpse of my top three dragons!

Glass Dragon

Glass Dragon

Glass Dragon

Glass Dragon

Glass Dragon

Glass Dragon

Okay, top four… because they are pretty cool!

Dragon Number Four!

Dragon Number Four!

All right, enough with the dragon-spotting… It’s time to eat, so grab a cool place mat and join us!

Nine Dragons Placemat

Nine Dragons Place mat

Eats

My friend and I went with the Appetizer Trio for starters (meant to serve two).

Appetizer portion of menu -- click to enlarge

Appetizer and sides portion of menu — click to enlarge

This allowed us to try each appetizer of the Cold Appetizers: Diao Yu Tai Cucumber Salad, Spicy Beef, and Fragrant Chicken (pictured from left to right below).

Cold Appetizer Trio

Cold Appetizer Trio

The Spicy Beef lived up to its name with the level of kick, and the meat was certainly fresh. While I was aware that this appetizer was served cold, upon tasting it, I couldn’t help but feel that it would be improved as a hot dish.

Spicy Beef

Spicy Beef

The real surprise was the Cucumber Salad. While it doesn’t include “Spicy” anywhere in the name, it was much hotter than the “Spicy Beef.”

I hadn’t thought much of the Cucumber Salad when I saw it listed on the Trio, but it was my favorite of the bunch. You have to be open to some serious spice, though, for this one.

Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad

I found the Fragrant Chicken to be neither fragrant, nor particularly flavorful, unfortunately.

Fragrant Chicken

Fragrant Chicken

While the Cucumbers and Spicy Beef were fine, my recommendation is to stick with the hot appetizers here, with which we’ve had better experience in the past.

Since I was still quite warm from my World Showcase stroll (it was a muggy day even by Florida standards — and that’s saying something), I opted for a cold entrée from the menu as well: the Chinese Chicken Salad.

Lunch entree portion of menu -- click to enlarge

Lunch entree portion of menu — click to enlarge

Something in me is resistant to being at a sit-down restaurant and not having some sort of hot dish (Why? I have no idea…), so I ordered the Soup and Chinese Chicken Salad Combo, which includes your choice of Hot and Sour Soup or Chicken Consommé with Dumplings.

The Hot and Sour Soup again lived up precisely to its name. The chili heat seemed to intensify with each bite, which I really enjoyed, though it might not suit everybody’s taste.

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Chinese Chicken Salad. I made a guess when choosing my dressing, and went with the Peanut-Coconut (the other choice was Sweet Ginger). As it turns out, this salad is one of the healthiest fresh options I’ve found on Disney property.

Chinese Chicken Salad

Chinese Chicken Salad

While not particularly exciting or unique — save for the dressing options — it was fresh and well-presented, and the golden raisins, walnuts, and bit of wonton crisps lent variety to both the texture and flavor.

Additionally, the dressing was served on the side, and I appreciated being able to put on as much or as little as I wanted (another bonus for anyone striving to stay on the healthier side of things). The Peanut-Coconut dressing smelled very much like a natural peanut butter, and I wasn’t sure how I would like it on my salad.

Peanut-Coconut Dressing

Peanut-Coconut Dressing

Fortunately, the flavor was mild enough that it gave just a hint of peanut taste while adding a nice creaminess to the salad. (I never did detect any hint of coconut.)

Salad with Peanut-Coconut Dressing

Salad with Peanut-Coconut Dressing

My friend ordered the Honey-Sesame Chicken with a side of fried rice, and kindly shared some with me.

Honey Sesame Chicken

Honey Sesame Chicken

The flavor was good, the meat was high quality, and I really appreciated that it was just salty enough without tasting like a pile of sodium.

The difficulty for me here was not the dish, which was well-prepared, but the price point. While it’s not a bad price for an entree at Disney — coming in at $16.98 — it’s far too similar to a dish I can find in other places for less. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare, but for some reason it’s difficult not to.

Since I went with a proper salad for my entrée, I was even more open to dessert than usual ;). Nine Dragons does have a Dessert Wines selection, but I decided to try one of the Specialty Cocktails from the regular menu as part of dessert, because several on the list sounded quite sweet.

Specialty Cocktails -- click to enlarge

Specialty Cocktails — click to enlarge

I went with “Heavenly Clouds,” primarily because it had all ingredients that I like (Coconut Rum, Honeydew Melon Liqueur, Pineapple Juice and cream)… but also, yes, because I liked the name! Our server (attentive, friendly, and warm throughout the meal) had also mentioned that this was her favorite.

"Heavenly Clouds"

“Heavenly Clouds”

This cocktail was one of the two best surprises of the meal. You definitely have to like sweet drinks to enjoy it — and be prepared for more than a hint of that melon liqueur.  I thought the fruity taste with the bit of cream was fun and refreshing.

The other great surprise was the most recent item from the dessert menu: Banana Cheesecake Eggrolls.

Dessert Menu -- click to enlarge

Dessert Menu — click to enlarge

Made to serve two, this dish is also served with a scoop of your choice of ice cream, and we chose the always refreshing Strawberry Red Bean.

Banana Cheesecake Eggrolls and Strawberry Red Bean Ice Cream

Banana Cheesecake Eggrolls and Strawberry Red Bean Ice Cream

The egg roll shells came out fried to a wonderful golden brown. While neither I nor my friend detected a ton of cheesecake flavor in the pureed banana and cream cheese mixture (until the aftertaste), the soft, creamy and sweet banana balanced really well with the crisp, fried shells. While I’m not going to vouch for its authenticity, let’s face it: it’s fun!

Cross-section of Banana Cheesecake Eggroll

Cross-section of Banana Cheesecake Eggroll

The flavors and textures together reminded me a bit of one of my favorite desserts in Disney World: the Fried Wontons at Animal Kingdom’s Yak & Yeti.

Overall

Nine Dragons continues to present a bit of a conundrum when it comes to choosing Table Service meals at Epcot. The thing is, it’s difficult to recommend using a Table Service Credit on the Disney Dining Plan here when the entrée choices aren’t unique enough from what most people will be able to find near their homes for less cost (albeit, maybe not in quite-so gorgeous surroundings). This is especially true in light of having so many other standout choices at Epcot.

If you’ve been understandably on-the-fence with this one, maybe you’d enjoy stopping in at an off-hour for drinks and dessert or appetizers. It would give you a chance to experience the atmosphere – which is truly enjoyable — and find out what you think. My friend and I felt that we found a few nice surprises outside the norm and overall we enjoyed our most recent trip.

Have you dined with the Nine Dragons? Please let us know your thoughts with a comment!

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24 Comments

  1. Joni says:

    The General Tso’s Duo
    It say’s Crispy and Dumplings -did you just not show the crispy or was it a choice?
    From the description I assumed it was both, but you know what happens when you assume.

  2. Mike Venere says:

    Think your summation at the end pretty much is the mindset of many…..

    I have never even considered Nine Dragons to have lunch or dinner because unless they do something different from the 10 Chinese places I can get takeout at home in a less than 5 minute drive, then what’s the uniqueness?

  3. Kev says:

    I think that the menu has much improved over the years, but still offer a ‘high street buffet’ kind of choices and quality.
    With so many amazing dishes available to WDW, they could really knock us out with some really authentic and really interesting fresh dishes.

    Chinese food is a bit like Pizza, it’s really great when prepared well and freshly, but that only tends to be about 5% of the time.

  4. Hannah says:

    We had lunch here on our very first trip to WDW in 1993. We have been back to WDW 11 times since and have never even considered a return visit to this restaurant. The service was awful. No one acted as if they knew what they were doing. There was only one other table with guested. The food wasn’t nearly as good as what we can get at sunshine seasons. I had recently thought about trying it again but this review helped me with that decision. Thanks … I check your website everyday for all the new news, menus and reviews.

  5. may says:

    thanks for the review! I am thinking this might be a good spot for a light dinner (shared entrees/apps) on our Illuminations dessert day. I know it doesn’t get much love and for good reason – but seems like a pretty spot to have drinks and share a bit of food at an off-peak time.

  6. Jeff says:

    Nine Dragons gets two chopsticks down. The only thing I want to try here are the soup dumplings, but I fear I’ll be disappointed after having excellent ones in New York City’s Chinatown.

  7. Judi Lazoff says:

    Thanks for the review, and I do agree! I don’t think it’s the worst restaurant on property, and I do think that it’s worth a try … especially now, when so many people are on the dining plans – why not give it a shot, right?! If nothing else, it gets you out of the FL heat, and gives a pretty quiet respite in the middle of the day. That Chicken Salad looks rather tasty too, thanks for the photo!

  8. Kerri says:

    Nice Dragons is actually one of my favorite spots. Their veggie spring rolls are AWESOME! Served with tasty dipping sauces as well. We really like the pot stickers as well. The honey sesame chicken is my favorite entree. I will say that I prefer dinner over lunch. The portions are a bit larger. And finally, the South Sea Breeze is a yummy cocktail!!

  9. Liz says:

    We ate there once and that was enough. I get better food from the Chinese take out places near home. If I want sit down and ambiance, there is restaurant about 20 minutes from me that serves better food for less and is very pretty (even an indoor koi pond and bridge).

  10. Carol says:

    I guess we’re in the minority as we’ve always enjoyed our meals at Nine Dragons. The food is neither unique nor innovative but it’s always been fresh and tasty. Service has always been good, but I have to agree that the tables are uncomfortably close. However I find this is true at most WDW restaurants. For me personally, I can take ND or leave it, but it’s one of my hubby’s favourite places so I always try to include it.

  11. Avaitor says:

    Hmm, I’ve never given much thought to trying out Nine Dragons, but the banana cheesecake eggrolls look too appetizing to not try out. Perhaps a dessert and drink experience here would be suited in the near future!

  12. Essie says:

    I ate dinner here in 1990 and we had a very good meal. I don’t think I’d go back, however. I’ve heard many good reports about it and if I was going to spend the money or credit, I’d rather go to Teppan Edo. That place was excellent. Thanks for sharing the glass dragons; I love to see art glass creations.

  13. Essie says:

    Sorry, I meant to type that I’ve heard many ‘not too good’ reports about it.

  14. Irene says:

    Wow, I have been to this restaurant a bunch and have never even thought to glimpse at their cocktail choices! After seeing and hearing about your delicious drink I am thrilled to go grab one next time (even if we just get the drink). Also, I am looking forward to the banana egg roll, as our options there have always been limited to either ice cream or cake. Awesome suggestions, thanks!

  15. John says:

    We stopped at Nine Dragons for the first time in YEARS in 2011 after hearing it had been fixed up, and had a great time there… enough that we have an ADR there this coming trip too.

    Yes – there are many other places that do more innovative Chinese food, and certainly just about everyone does it cheaper, but if you’re at Disney for 9 or 10 days, it hits a very different note than what you get elsewhere, it’s a great space (if a little crowded) and while it’s probably not going to be someone’s favorite meal of the trip, I find it hard to believe that it will be anyone’s worst meal of the trip either.

    At the end of the day, you ought to judge a restaurant by whether you enjoyed it, and whether you’d come back, and Nine Dragons hits both those notes.

  16. Dan says:

    In all these years we have yet to eat there. However we do love… and frequently go to The Lotus Blossom Cafe (counter service) for a quick, tasty and filling lunch or dinner. :-)

  17. Dave says:

    We tried Seven Dragons, last month. It was one of the last restaurants at Epcot we hadn’t tried. We were completely underwhelmed, and will probably never go back.

    One of our biggest complaints was their inability to accommodate some food allergies in our group. These had been annotated on the reservation, and I again reminded the hostess when we checked in. Even so, our server had no idea there were allergies in play. It took quite a while for someone to come over to discuss these. Usually, it’s the chef. In this case, it was a manager. Unfortunately, because the woks are seasoned, they’re never cleaned with soap. They were unable to guarantee there wouldn’t be cross-contamination for anything cooked in one. Um, that would be just about everything. My poor niece, who is allergic to seafood, lemons, and red pepper, wound up having a bowl of plain white rice and sweet and sour chicken with no sauce. In all the times we’ve eaten with them at Disney, I can’t remember a single other restaurant where the chef wasn’t able to come up with something tasty and satisfying for her.

    I had the Zha Jiang Noodles Sampler. I thought this would be fun and interactive. (After all, the menu said it would.) I have to say that the mental picture I had of the dish from reading the menu was much different than the reality. I had imagined several different types of noodles with different sauces, meats, and vegetables. This turned out to be two bowls of identical noodles, some edamame, chopped raw onion, raw julianne carrots, raw julianne cucumber, and two bowls of meat. I was very disappointed. To this day, I still have no idea which bowl was the chicken and which was the pork. These were so heavily sauced (with the same sauce) that I couldn’t tell them apart.

    My friend got the Chinese Chicken Salad. While it was enjoyable, he says it also was nothing to write home about.

    With so many other wonderful choices at Epcot, there’s no reason for us to ever spend the valuable vacation time dining here.

    Another thing that disappointed us was the staff’s seeming lack of knowledge of the restaurant’s theme. We asked our server if there were, in fact, “nine dragons” somewhere. She told us, no, that was just the name. Knowing Disney and their attention to detail, though, we were doubtful of that answer and went in search after dinner. We think we counted nine in the ceiling of the waiting area.

  18. Krista says:

    What a wonderful, thorough review Wendy, thank you so much! I have always been a fan of Nine Dragons. They’ve never disappointed us.

  19. Tracy says:

    Jeff – don’t know where you saw soup dumplings, they just have plain wonton soup but if that were the case I would be there immediately since a soup dumpling in the Orlando/ Central Florida area is unheard of and I miss them terribly.

    Although this seems like standard American Chinese food everything here seemed like great quality. I’m definately going to keep Nine Dragons in mind. Looking forward to giving it a try.

  20. Judi says:

    Another thing that I don’t think a lot of people realize ~ many times, if you’re doing a tour in Epcot .. for example, “Undiscovered Future World” ~ at the conclusion of the tour, you get a 20% discount coupon for Nine Dragons! The shrimp fried rice was a HUGE (and quite tasty!) portion, easily shared at lunch if you have an appetizer beforehand. Just ‘food for thought’!

  21. Anna says:

    It sounds like this restaurant would be worth seeking out if the food was more authentic Chinese food and less the Americanized/Anglicized version many of us get in our hometowns. Food in China is very different than what we tend to think of it as. Nine Dragons could be that unique place that actually moves away from sweet and sour or honey chicken and gives folks something they could truly get in China or Taiwan.

  22. Natalie says:

    The reasons for not going to Nine Dragons (“I can get better food at my local restaurant) is exactly why I have a hard time dining on Disney property. I live in one of the biggest cities in the country and I’m a 10 minute drive from ALL of the food choices in EPCOT. Plus, I would pay like 50% less per meal.

    But… you don’t go to Disney to get bargains. You go for atmosphere and experience. I was at Nine Dragons last a few years ago and it really was pretty good. Authentic? Ha, no (I’m Chinese so I know lol). But it was fun. That’s pretty much all of my reviews for sit down restaurants in the world showcase: not authentic and over priced but still fun!

  23. Alan says:

    I love Chinese food, but haven’t eaten here in twenty years. The restaurant is attractive and the food looks up to date, but I think my problem is that I eat this type of food so much at home that I want to try things that are a little more out of the ordinary.

  24. Maureen says:

    Thanks for the review! We went once in 1998, and the food was fine, but never have been back. I think it would be a great place to do appetizers and dessert, along with a Heavenly Clouds (that looks delicious!), midday-a place to relax and rest your feet after hours in the park.

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