Epcot’s World Showcase at Walt Disney World is home to so many interesting restaurants serving high-quality food from around the (actual) world that it can be hard to decide which to choose.
And frankly, Nine Dragons in the China Pavilion has been one that we’ve decided to skip much of the time. The setting is lovely and worth exploring, but in the past, the food has been lackluster, no better than most of the Americanized Chinese restaurants found in strip malls around the country.
But we give second chances (and third and fourth and fifth) here at the DFB, so I made a reservation and hoped for something to love in this table service spot. And while I won’t say Nine Dragons has clawed its way up too far in the rankings of table service restaurants at Epcot, I will say that my most recent visit was the best I’ve had here.
While I encourage you to take that with a grain of salt, I also want to acknowledge that plenty of you do enjoy eating here, and I will always cling to optimism that even the least palatable of Walt Disney World dining locations will be in a constant state of flux, striving for better.
But let’s start with what we already love about Nine Dragons: its magical decor and warm atmosphere.
Nine Dragons is located at the front of the China Pavilion, on your left as you enter the beautifully landscaped and colorful area. Whether you’ve realized it or not, you’ve likely walked past Nine Dragons on your way to explore the House of Good Fortune store or made your way to Reflections of China.
The exterior of Nine Dragons maintains the overall design of the pavilion with its curvaceous roofline, exquisite wood work, and bright colors.
The interior is equally beautiful, with rich wood tones, lights fashioned in the style of paper lanterns, and an ornate ceiling.
The details in the dining room are stunning. Take some time to admire them up close if you can.
Most seating is at tables with minimalistic design. If you can get a table with a view, go for it! We love watching the World go by during our meals.
There are some booths, large circular ones that seat six (or more, maybe, if you’ve got little ones in tow).
Place settings are simple, with paper placemats, a square white plate, and utensils. Nothing fancy or unique here, but it’s functional.
The mood in Nine Dragons isn’t particularly transportive — not in the way that spots like Restaurant Marrakesh and Le Cellier are — but it’s comfortable and provides many nods to Chinese craft traditions.
Yet we all know that decor does not a terrific restaurant make. Let’s eat!
Nine Dragons features dragons throughout the restaurant, including in this message included on the menu. And while we think the “sacred pearl of wisdom and immortality” is all well and good, we’d also chase the sacred pearl of good eats. 😉
The Drink Menu at Nine Dragons features some Chinese specialties as well as plenty of wine and a few beers.
I went with the Jade Beauty, as I did on my visit in 2012, and this time the drink was more balanced between the lemon, lime, and melon. It was sweet and enjoyable.
The menu at Nine Dragons hasn’t changed a tremendous amount over the years, which is great news if you are a fan of the dishes here. You can always find a version of a dumpling and favorites like spring rolls and bao buns on the apps menu, along with popular entrees like Kung Pao Chicken and Fried Rice. There’s also a Nine Dragons Family Dinner which might be economical if you’re planning on enjoying three courses anyway.
There are also Chef Selections, which can vary from day to day (except they usually don’t).
As you can see, I tried a whole bunch of stuff. If you dine here with a large group, getting a selection of items and sharing can be a ton of fun.
First up: Sichuan Chicken Dumplings. These were awesome — flavorful and slightly spicy with a good texture on the wrappers. Garnishes were fresh red onion, carrot, scallions, cilantro, and daikon radish. These were a great foil to the savory dumplings.
My second appetizer was the worst item of the day: Pork Belly Bao. Yeah, that combination of words should be a homerun, but this pork belly was not prepared well. While the flavor was there, the melt-in-your-mouth texture of a good pork belly preparation was missing. Such a bummer because it had potential!
The Spinach Noodles are on the menu as a side dish, but they’re certainly filling enough to be a meal. The spinach flavor is not pronounced (although the color is!), and the real flavor comes from the garlic dressing. I actually loved this — it was understated enough in flavor for pickier kiddos to enjoy (no, your child who will ONLY eat noodles will butter won’t like it, but maybe your kid who isn’t sure about Chinese food, but willing to try, will enjoy it) and offered a good side to some of the more flavorful dishes.
For main dishes, I went with Typhoon Shelter Shrimp, which features fried shrimp, shallots, garlic, jalapenos, and a side of sweet chili aioli.
This dish is flavor explosion, with tonnnnns of flaky garlic. The best thing about this dish is that it’s not saucy (thanks to that side of aioli), so the various components keep their various textures. And while this isn’t going to win any awards for innovation, the “fried thing with spicy aioli” that I love so much is coming through here with flying colors. So, if that’s your thing, you’ll enjoy this dish. The sweet chili aioli was great.
The Chef’s Selection was Spicy Honey Crispy Chicken, and this was a great dish. Inventive? No. But tasty and satisfying, owing to that big serving of fried, glossy chicken. Also, on the spicy heat meter it was about a 5 out of 10, so not a problem if you’re not a huge spicy heat fan.
Real talk, desserts at Nine Dragons aren’t making it a destination any time soon, and unfortunately, the one I chose on this visit was among the worst I’ve had.
Banana Cheesecake Eggrolls are a clever food mash-up on paper. But the reality on this visit was gray, mushy banana in a crispy wrapper. Gray. Mushy. Banana. I didn’t see where the cheesecake came in at all. It was downright unappetizing.
I’ve had these before and found them to be not so bad, but on this visit, they were a hard pass. Sorry, Dragons. This one should be torched.
If I had stopped at the entrees, this visit would have been a (surprising) win! I’m not saying I’ll be swapping out my Via Napoli or Spice Road Table ADRs for Nine Dragons, but I enjoyed myself, and I even look forward to going back again! SEE? CHANGE CAN HAPPEN!
Nosh or Not?
Get your dumpling on at Nine Dragons if:
- You love Chinese food, whether it’s authentic or Americanized authentic.
- You want to try something a little off your beaten path, and this is the least intimidating option in World Showcase.
- All the best ADRs are already taken and you need a table service restaurant in Epcot.
Ride your dragon to another spot if:
- You’re not looking to eat food you can get at a decent Chinese place closer to home (and cheaper!).
- A table service restaurant doesn’t fit with your Epcot schedule.
- You want to try something a little more unusual.
This visit to Nine Dragons was the best I’ve had, but that’s not to say that it’s suddenly become a stellar, drop-everything-and-get-there kind of place. Still, it was delicious (save for the Pork Belly Bao and that dessert!), satisfying, and appropriate for all kinds of diners, from the adventurous to the somewhat picky. The service was polite and efficient, and one of the highlights of the experience. So if you’ve got an open meal time and want to give it a try, stop in or make an ADR. It just might surprise you!
Want to get lost in some fun Disney menus and food reviews? Check out our Disney World Restaurant Guide!
Have you enjoyed a meal at Nine Dragons? Let us know what you thought! Share your experience in the comments.