Tales of a Digital Nomad: Our Favorite Restaurants and Free Activities in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. is the capital of our nation and the land of the free—and by free, I mean you will never run out of free things to do here! In our three months living with Landing in Washington, D.C., my husband Ivan and I stuffed ourselves with incredible food and discovered one of our new favorite cuisines, witnessed the entire month-long Cherry Blossom Festival, and enjoyed so many free things, from museums to the zoo to the Olympic sport of curling.
If you’re headed to Washington, D.C., and are looking for inspiration, here’s how Ivan and I spent our time living in the nation’s capital:
Our favorite restaurants in Washington, D.C.
Cross-country road trips are exhausting, no matter how many great audiobooks you have queued up or how excited you are to move into your Landing. What got us through the long day on the road when we moved to D.C. was the promise of Mezeh, which we discovered during one of Ivan’s past work trips to the area.
The concept is essentially a Mediterranean Chipotle, where you fill your bowl with delicious grains, veggies, perfectly seasoned meats, and incredible dips, such as hummus, baba ganoush, spicy feta, and so much more. There are restaurants with similar concepts in the U.S. (and multiple even in D.C.), but our experience at this place beats them all.
Ordering Mezeh delivery while we unpacked in our new home was the perfect start to our time in the city and the perfect way to offset a long day of road trip food with delicious, flavorful veggies. Some of our favorite things to put in our custom bowls include the bulgar pilaf, lamb kefta, spicy feta, and caramelized eggplant.
Our Landing was located in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, which was recommended by friends of ours who used to live in Washington, D.C. Basically, all we knew about it was that it was a “fun place” and that another friend’s dad had great Ethiopian food there in the ‘90s.
We had never tried Ethiopian food, but we saw that a Michelin Bib Ethiopian restaurant was a four-minute walk from our apartment and unwittingly stumbled into Zenebech while exploring our neighborhood for the first time. Oh my gosh! Ethiopian food went from something we knew nothing about to one of our favorite cuisines the moment we tasted the rich stewed meat wrapped in a fluffy sour pastry. Served on a huge silver platter covered with injera, a thin crepe-like pastry with a delicious sourdough flavor, were piles of meats and veggies, all stewed and seasoned to perfection. Some were spicy, some were rich, and some were light and refreshing, but all of them were extremely tasty and eaten using the injera as your utensil.
It turns out that Adams Morgan used to be considered Little Ethiopia, so in addition to tasting some of the best food of our lives, we were also tasting a bit of history in our new home. We went back to Zenebech so many times and even introduced visiting friends to our favorite spot.
We highly recommend ordering Awaze Tibs and the Mehaberawi (four meat, four veggies) combo plate, but everything we tried there was incredible.
3. Tasting the best of Chef José Andrés
When we move somewhere new, I always try to follow a bunch of Instagram accounts about the city to find out about upcoming events and get a feel for the place. I start by following any “Eater” or “Overhead” accounts for the city, then look at the account’s Instagram recommends from there.
From one of these accounts, I found out about the city’s biannual Restaurant Week, in which restaurants from all over the city offer special tasting menus at amazing prices, including restaurants by one of our favorite chefs, José Andrés. We’ve been a fan of his for years and try to go to his restaurants whenever we get the chance. There are a lot of them in D.C., and they can get expensive, but Restaurant Week was a game-changer!
We went to Zaytinya, his Mediterranean restaurant, and enjoyed an amazing five-course meal for $35. We actually saw Chef José while we were there! We also got to try his homestyle Spanish restaurant, Spanish Diner, where we ate the best cheesecake of our lives, his Mexican restaurant Oyamel, which serves mouthwatering cochinita pibil tacos, and Beefsteak, his veggie-based restaurant, where we loved the delicious Beetsteak Burger with a marinated beet patty.
The Cherry Blossom Festival
When people imagine Washington, D.C., they typically picture it during the cherry blossom season. The city is so beautiful when its thousands of cherry blossom trees bloom during the spring and millions of tourists stream in to experience it.
We signed up for the Cherry Blossom Festival emails so we were always in the loop about events and spent four weekends attending many of them (almost all of which were free!). Our favorite event was the Blossom Kite Festival, where you could make and fly a kite under the Washington Monument and watch experts fly giant kites and synchronized kites together. It was so beautiful seeing colorful kites filling the sky by the monument while blossoms bloomed on the ground below.
Most of our favorite parts of the season weren’t official events at all—my best memories are walking through blossoms during peak bloom, pedal-boating across Tidal Basin and admiring the blossoms away from the crowds, and finding a local artist who painted our portrait into a landscape of the blossoms backdropped by the Jefferson Memorial.
Our favorite free things to do in Washington, D.C.
How were we able to eat so much delicious food while we were in D.C.? Because we basically never spent any money on things to do! All of the Smithsonian museums are huge, amazing, and free. There are so many national museums, government buildings, monuments, and memorials to explore, as well as many free events.
The National Arboretum featured an incredible bonsai tree collection, every state tree, and columns that were once part of the U.S. Capitol Building. We also loved visiting the National Zoo, where we saw pandas up close and personal and my favorite orangutan, Lucy. At The Wharf DC, we saw the oldest fish market in the U.S., enjoyed the sunset over the river, and took a free curling class, which I have wanted to try for over a decade. There was always an amazing free event going on at The Wharf DC—I highly recommend signing up for their emails to stay up-to-date.
When I first came to Washington, D.C. almost two decades ago, I knew it was a city I could see myself living in someday. Getting to taste all the amazing food, experience the entire month-long Cherry Blossom Festival, and enjoy so many of the incredible free things to do while living here with Landing was better than I could have ever imagined.
Next stop, Miami!