Nine Dragons is the table service restaurant at Epcot’s China pavilion in Walt Disney World. This World Showcase dining review includes food photos, thoughts on our experience eating at Nine Dragons, including ambiance and value. In terms of basic info for WDW vacation planners, this is a 1-credit table service restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan, and accepts Tables in Wonderland for a 20% discount.
Nine Dragons has a reputation that precedes it. I recall planning our first Walt Disney World vacation as adults around a decade ago, and the two universal truths of World Showcase dining seemed to be that Le Cellier was not to be missed and Nine Dragons was definitely to be missed. If you’ve ‘made the rounds’ on Disney fan sites, you’ve likely encountered this sentiment. This was a big bummer for me given that I get hyped for restaurants with even one dragon–let alone 9 of them, flying around, reigning fire and hellacious dragon-fury upon patrons.
Well, the times they are a-changin’, as I today I wouldn’t even think about Le Cellier (unless someone else were paying) and I’m about to (spoiler alert) call Nine Dragons a hidden gem in World Showcase. I know this goes against the teachings of the Disney Elders, Yelp scores, etc., but hear me out because Nine Dragons is potentially worthy of consideration.
Okay, so why is Nine Dragons a hidden gem? And, does the phrase “hidden gem” really have any meaning when being applied to a restaurant in plain view at one of the busiest theme parks in the world? Let’s take a look…
Actually, let’s start first with ambiance. As soon as we stepped inside, I knew why the reviews have been so harsh: a complete dearth of dragons. None flying around, none climbing the walls, not even any nestled in the shadows under tables. Unless they are in the kitchen powering the ovens, the name of this restaurant amounts to blatant false advertising. I can see how some guests would be peeved.
We tried to rise above this. Dragons aside, there’s nothing necessarily special about Nine Dragons in terms of theme or decor. It strikes me as a high-end Chinese restaurant that you might find in a major city, with a level of craftsmanship and sophistication that (I assume) is an original (or close to it) EPCOT Center design.
The style is definitely understated, but really, what are you going to do thematically with a Chinese restaurant that wouldn’t characterize it? There’s a lot of detail in the carved details around the restaurant, the light fixtures are pretty, and the carpet features nice designs. It’s not as ornate as it could be, but it gets the job done.
Moving on to the food, which is where Nine Dragons shines.
Sarah ordered the Lunch Special, which is a 3-course meal for $18. For her appetizer, she started with the vegetable spring rolls.
These were fine with the vegetables providing decent flavor, but they were nothing memorable. In fairness, I think the ceiling on vegetable spring rolls is pretty low, so if you’re a huge spring roll enthusiast, your opinion on them may be more nuanced than mine.
I started with General Tso’s Chicken Buns. These are traditional, steamed Chinese bao with fried chicken, topped with pork floss and General Tso’s Sauce. We first became fans of bao at Tokyo Disneyland as there are several cutesy versions (Mickey’s glove, Donald’s duck bill, etc.) served there, and these stack up very well to them.
The breading on the chicken is almost reminiscent of batter you’d find on traditional fish and chips, which made for an interesting (in a good way) flavor. The two bao were also quite sizable, and potentially could have been an entree on their own if you have a smaller appetite. (This is also available as the entree in the lunch special, and includes 3 bao instead of 2.)
For her entree, Sarah had the Nine Dragons Lo Mein, consisting of egg noodles stir fried with barbecue pork, beef, shrimp, and vegetables. There was a good amount of everything here, rather than a scattering of meat hiding in a sea of noodles. The beef was tender and the shrimp had a superficial crispness to them.
One of our common complaints about lo mein is the overuse of soy sauce, resulting in a thick coat of glaze on the dish. That wasn’t the case here. The amount of sauce was conservative to moderate, allowing the noodles and other ingredients to stand out, rather than everything being bogged down by a heavy coat of soy.
I felt similarly about my Honey-Sesame Chicken. It was not overly sodium-y or sugar-y as a result of the same conservative approach to the marinade, and I think the dish was better for it. The chicken was garnished with sesame, which hardly added to the flavor, but did enhance the texture a bit. The portion here was huge, and made me slightly regret also ordering the appetizer. Fortunately(?), I’m a ManBearPig that roams Walt Disney World attacking delicious foods for no reason at all.
For dessert, we split Caramel-Ginger Ice Cream that came with Sarah’s Lunch Special. This wasn’t huge, but it was enough for the two of us to share. It was what you’d expect in terms of the caramel flavor, but with refreshing and distinct thanks to the bits of ginger. We both really enjoyed this, too.
We both were really impressed with everything we tried (aside from the spring rolls) and would recommend what we had if you’re visiting Nine Dragons. Truly, though, it’s the prices of the food that shine at Nine Dragons. When we dined here, the 3-course Lunch Special was $18 (adjust this for “Disney Inflation” if you’re reading this a year or more after it was published). That’s cheaper than a counter service meal, for a larger portion of much better quality food.
The thing is, even after heaping on all of this praise, it’s still somewhat difficult to recommend Nine Dragons if you’re a first-timer visitor to Walt Disney World. That’s because good Chinese food is not all that difficult to find in the real world, and the ambiance here is not spectacular. Restaurant Marrakesh is more unique on both fronts, as are Biergarten and Via Napoli if you don’t mind spending a bit more. Then there are the “fun” restaurants like Garden Grill and Coral Reef. All of these are probably better overall experiences, even if the value proposition at Nine Dragons is tough to beat.
For Walt Disney World regulars who have tried many of the above options, the decision is a lot easier, and I’d go as far as to say doing the lunch special at Nine Dragons should be a no-brainer given the cost. However, for first-timers perusing the field of restaurants in Epcot, it’s a more difficult choice.
Overall, dining at Nine Dragons is a restaurant that is off the radar of a lot of Walt Disney World guests, especially regulars who have heard poor things about it. Even sans dragons, it deserves a second look. We doubt it will become anyone’s all-time favorite meal, but in terms of value options at Epcot, we can’t think of any stronger choices. For those willing to spend the time here, it’s a viable replacement for a counter service meal that will be about as economical, and probably much more satisfying.
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What do you think of Nine Dragons? Do you think it has a deserved or undeserved negative reputation? Have any of your own experiences dining here to share? If you don’t like Nine Dragons, why not? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments!