Most of our Disney trip, Jules and I were winging it as far as restaurants went. (In other words, we hadn’t made restaurant reservations in advance and alerted the management I was a pain-in-the-*ss vegan who would require a special meal and possibly a visit to my table by the chef.)
Anyhoo, we were in Epcot. Jules likes Chinese, I like Chinese. And if we went to a Chinese restaurant, I figured there was a high chance a mixed-vegetables-and-tofu dish had secured a spot on a limited menu – no summit meeting with the chef required.
And that is how we wound up at Nine Dragons.
Atmosphere: Nine Dragons is a very beautiful and elegant Chinese restaurant. But you should know that’s all it is – a beautiful and elegant restaurant. You’re not dining in a castle (Be Our Guest), or in an aquarium with fish watching from the walls as diners eat their brethren (Coral Reef). There’s no volcano (San Angel Inn, Lava Lounge). No belly dancers (Marrakesh). No princesses will dine with you and you won’t see Pooh boogeying by. No zebras or giraffes or slithy toves will gyre and gimble in the wabe outside the window (Sanaa). So, if you’re looking for a “destination dining adventure,” this may not be the place for you. But if you’re just looking for decent vegan food (something other than veggie burgers and salads), good prices, and great service in a beautiful restaurant, you will enjoy this. I know I certainly did.
Service: Full, sit-down table service, both lunch and dinner. Our waiter/Cast Member Woody was outstanding. Attentive, knowledgeable, personable.
Note: Jules was a little worried we were not dressed appropriately for a full-service restaurant (shorts and tees, our makeup mostly sweated off, and our curls going haywire from the heat). However, I pointed out that almost everyone in the park was wearing shorts, and how could they hold a Disney tee against us? We theorized the dress code meant basic decency in a family setting – shoes and shirt required, no bathing suits or booty shorts. Then we saw a fellow diner in the restaurant with her booty hanging out – and not in a luscious J-Lo kind of way, more like her booty was despondent and just gave up sort of way. So, even though Nine Dragons looks like the kind of super-fancy place that would enforce a dress code – they don’t. Your tees and shorts and sweaty faces will be just fine.
Menu: Not as extensive as your local takeout Chinese joint, but definitely more options than most Disney restaurants. (Fourteen entrees, ranging from $15.98 to $26.98.) There are several vegan appetizers on the menu (Vegetable Spring Rolls – $4.98 for two, and Cucumber Salad – $6.98); a Vegetable and Egg Fried Rice side dish which could probably be prepared without egg -$3.98; Spinach Noodles with Spiced Garlic Dressing – $4.98; and a vegan entree, the expected Vegetable and Tofu Stir-Fry ($16.98).
And be sure to look at the drink list. I chose to guzzle water (I kept Woody very busy refilling my glass!). But Nine Dragons has an impressive assortment of beverages, ranging from flavored iced teas (blackberry jasmine, raspberry) and lemonades to smoothies to some specialty cocktails I’d not seen before.
The Food Itself: The vegetable spring rolls themselves are fairly ordinary – the same generic, cabbage-stuffed rolls served at every Chinese restaurant everywhere. The notable thing is they were not at all greasy! The chili sauce was wonderful and, although probably jarred, tasted housemade. It also packed a little heat!
Tip: Save any leftover chili sauce and use it to dip your tofu in it later!
Of course I ordered the Vegetable and Tofu Stir-Fry. I requested they make it extra spicy and to my surprise, they actually DID!
The Vegetable and Tofu Stir-Fry was notable for several things: The extremely fresh vegetables. The sauce which was light enough to allow me to actually taste the veggies. The fact it wasn’t too salty. The fact it wasn’t greasy.
My omnivore friend Jules also commented how non-greasy the vegetable spring roll (I shared) and her sweet and sour pork were.
Overall, we were both very pleased with our experience. The only minor complaint, Jules thought the “side of broccoli” that came with her sweet-and-sour pork was a bit small.
I have to be upfront – a LOT of people don’t like this restaurant. I mean, this place gets seriously dissed.
Fortunately, I did not know that before I ate there – I entered with pleasant expectations and the restaurant exceeded them. So I was shocked to read the online reviews. After reading a number of these, I would advise taking them with a grain of salt.
Part of the problem is, it’s perceived as trendy or cool to diss this place.
The other part is people expect this to be like their favorite Chinese dine in/takeout joint in their hometown. With dozens of “combos” that you order by number, huge portions, and of course that salty/greasy taste. Because the complaints seem to be:
(1) It’s too expensive. Well, this is Disney. Price actually compares favorably to most of the other full-service, sit-down restaurants. Eight of the entrees are under $20. The author of the Easy Walt Disney World blog claims this is Epcot’s least expensive table service restaurant. Also, you get a nice ambiance, great service, and considerably healthier/ fresher/ better cooked food. (My favorite comment – “I can feed my family of five at the all-you-can eat Chinese buffet on Sundays for the same price we paid for the two of us at Nine Dragons.” Errrk.)
(2) There’s not enough choice. As I’ve already pointed out, compared to other restaurants (which tend to have 6-10 entrees), Nine Dragons actually has fourteen. Disney restaurants tend to keep menu options limited in order to better serve the masses. And believe me, there are masses.
(And we vegans actually have more on-the-menu choices than many other Disney restaurants! Yeah, I wish there was more than one vegan entree – but at least there is an entree!)
(3) Portions are small – there’s only enough food for one person. Annd that’s why the menu is not labeled “family style.”
(4) It’s not authentic – usually followed by the comment, “I prefer the food at Panda Express.” (Give me a minute to stop giggling here.)
OK, first of all, this is Disney – no restaurant is going to be completely authentic. (If they were, believe me there’d be a lot more vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menus!) Take into consideration how many visitors are coming from small towns all over the United States – it’s very understandable cuisines would be modified to please the largest number of people possible.
Secondly – if you’re a fan of shopping mall food court Chinese food – I don’t think you should be judging “authenticity.” Keep reading the online reviews if you want giggles from people who have absolutely no clue – such as, “There are no bottles/packets of soy sauce on the table.” “How can this be an authentic Chinese restaurant if they don’t serve chicken chow mein?” “Meatballs aren’t Chinese! Did they just wander into a Chinese restaurant from Italy?”
Overall, I would highly recommend if you are a vegan who likes Chinese food. Beautiful setting, great service, good food at “reasonable-for-Disney” prices – and you can order off the menu! The only reason I wouldn’t recommend Nine Dragons to someone is if they are looking for entertainment/destination dining.