Katsura Grill - Food from the Streets

by Roan Poulter, contributing writer

Epcot's Katsura Grill is located within the Japan pavilion, a quick-service restaurant across the entranceway from Tokyo Dining. In contrast to Tokyo Dining, Katsura Grill is much more street-style food than fine dining. While the food is good, the most exceptional offering of this restaurant cannot be tasted.

Katsura Grill in its majestic background - Photo by Disney Parks Blog

When I say street food, some might consider that derogatory. However, historically street food has a proud and venerated history, especially in Japan. From steaming bowls of noodles and fresh roasted poultry to pot stickers and the origins of sushi, inventive street vendors have often pushed the boundaries of culinary experimentation and brought fresh, exciting flavors to the masses. Sushi was itself an invention originally for preserving pieces of fish, adapted by inventive and displaced post World War II chefs to feed the post-war boom.

It is only when sitting outside, however, that the full majesty of the Katsura Grill can be experienced. Don't sit inside—the area has more tables and chairs than it should, leaving guests to continually bump (and be bumped) as people try to find a table. However, outside the restaurant, and increasing in awesomeness the closer you get to the main Epcot thoroughfare, are the best tables in the park. Tables are in small alcoves along a winding path like leaves on a twisted branch. The dense foliage gives privacy and enough of a sound break so that you might forget you're in a Disney park.

The food is good. I realize that ubiquitous statement without any further guidance is meaningless. But, for the record, I feel that anyone choosing to dine here should know that, regardless of the shortcomings, the food always leaves me smiling and satisfied.

The biggest flaw Katsura Grill faces is not its menu. Teriyaki, sushi, gyoza, udon and ramen are all dishes long proffered by street vendors with little more than an active flame, sharp knife, fresh ingredients, and willing customers. However, the inherent charm of street cooking is that the food is prepared before your eyes. Katsura is more of a cafeteria style of cooking. The soups are spared the indignity by a last-minute assembly to include tempura bits, fresh onion or similar accoutrements. However, this is where sushi goes to die. If you would buy Sushi at a gas station, you're in for a treat. Otherwise, if you're one of the countless who shell out more than they ought to on rolls from the seemingly infinite offerings in sushi houses across the globe, you might want to skip this one.

What we had:

Tokyo Sushi Combo - California Roll (four pieces) and Nigiri (three pieces): The good news is that this is relatively cheap sushi. But whether it's the refrigeration time between creation and consumption, or overprocessed ingredients, this is almost tasteless. Having said all that, I order it almost every time I'm there because I love sushi. And I complain every time that there isn't more.

The sushi might miss the mark for fine diners. Photo by Roan Poulter

Tempura Udon: This one isn't on the menu anymore, but can be ordered if you know the name and ask politely. A flavorful and perfectly seasoned broth hides a copious amount of Udon noodles. You can get this with a deep-fried shrimp, but I don't find it really adds to the Udon.

Not on the menu, but worth asking for. Photo by Roan Poulter

Tonkotsu Ramen, served with Pork and Vegetables: If you lived through a ramen noodle diet in college, this might not be for you. But if you're a devotee of the new ramen craze that began in New York with places like Momofuku, then you might see how a nice piece of pork, fresh veggies, and an honored broth can make for a satisfying meal. This isn't quite that, the corn tastes canned and the broccoli is limp. But the flavors come together in a savory broth that can be quite a pleasant treat on a cool day.

Though garishly colored, this ramen is quite tasty. Photo by Roan Poulter

Our ratings are as follows:

  • Dad (42): 4.0 of 5 I really think this place needs a makeover to induce more of a street vibe versus the cafeteria. I love ordering off the menu, it makes me feel special.
  • Mom (42): 4.1 of 5 – Sitting in the quiet of the Japanese gardens is amazing. The food is all right.
  • Daughter (19): 3.7 of 5 – Walk up sushi in Epcot, yes please. Wish they had pho for the gluten intolerant.
  • Son (17): 4.0 of 5 – Udon noodle slurping should be a national pastime. The broth should come as a drink on cold nights.