Photo courtesy of Amy Neunsinger

Where Chef Candace Nelson Eats Out in LA with Her Kids

Candace Nelson goop

When you have two young boys, you know a thing or two about pizza and cupcakes. But if you’re Candace Nelson, you take it a step further. Nelson jump-started the cupcake craze in 2005, when she gave the world Sprinkles, her much-loved cupcake shop. And most recently, together with her husband, Charles, she opened Pizzana, a Neapolitan-style pizza joint in Brentwood. (Good news for East Siders: A second location in West Hollywood is set to open in 2019.)

You might think that the children of a chef and entrepreneur would be well-versed in dinner out. But in fact, “we like to reserve meals out for special occasions to preserve the wonder of that experience,” says Nelson. With that in mind, we asked Nelson for her favorite spots to go with her boys and found that her strategy is simple: Go to your favorite places but ask about kid-friendly menus and entertainment (a magician, live music, you name it).

Nelson's Picks

  • Cecconi’s <br><em> West Hollywood</em>

    West Hollywood

    A solid neighborhood go-to for cocktails (the Soho Mule features a house tonic plus ginger, lime, and soda) and decent Italian food (orecchiette, eggplant parmigiana, meatballs). Come here if you want a side of people-watching with your meal. There’s plenty of outdoor space—and a retractable roof—so the whole vibe is very Art Deco, punctuated with dark furniture, lots of greenery, and roomy, slick banquettes.

    NELSON SAYS: “On Sundays from 4 to 7 p.m., this place strikes a different tune during Family Supper. There’s a well-priced menu of salad, pasta, and pizza, along with a roving magician who goes from table to table performing tricks.”

  • Fountain Coffee Room<br><em> Beverly Hills </em>

    Fountain Coffee Room
    Beverly Hills

    Tucked inside the basement of the Beverly Hills Hotel, this 1950s-style diner (note the banana-leaf wallpaper) works for classic American breakfast fare, an informal lunch, or dinner. Note: It’s first come, first served.

    NELSON SAYS: “Even though it’s mostly thought of as a breakfast spot, we like to go for an early dinner, when you can actually pull off getting four adjoining seats at the counter. There’s something so comforting about seeing the same faces behind the counter. Get to know Ruth and Denise and they’ll feel like extended family. And don’t worry, even at dinner you can still get pancakes with chocolate chips.”

  • Huckleberry <br><em> Santa Monica </em>

    Santa Monica

    If you’re a parent, you’re likely an early riser—and this is your spot. (Lines out the door start forming around 10 a.m.) The tables turn over quickly, so it’s easy to eat in if you want to go that route. Co-owner Zoe Nathan offers an impressive lineup of sweet treats—doughnuts, Danishes, and morning buns—as satisfying as the quinoa, veggie, and egg bowls. We’ve been known to take the turkey meatballs to go.

    NELSON SAYS: “Nathan’s goodies are a natural solution to that age-old sweet-versus-savory breakfast conundrum. Go ahead and order the green eggs and ham; you can have that coffee cake on the side. Huckleberry’s kids’ menu is also thoughtfully crafted based on what kids actually want, with a special touch, such as PB&J on homemade brioche and chicken fingers prepared with Mary’s organic chicken.”

  • Izaka-ya by Katsu-ya<br><em> West Hollywood </em>

    Izaka-ya by Katsu-ya
    West Hollywood

    You’d never know that the Katsu-ya of today got its start in a strip mall in Studio City; now the chain occupies some of the slickest spaces around, thanks in no small part to Phillippe Starck (and a partnership with SBE). Whatever you do, don’t skip the spicy tuna on crispy rice or the crab and creamy popcorn shrimp tempura.

    NELSON SAYS: “This works for kids (even the most sushi-reluctant types) for a few reasons: Menus arrive in fanciful boats, and kids get a choice of two meals—a Kobe burger and Japanese fried chicken, or chicken teriyaki and shrimp tempura. Both come with edamame and a sushi lollipop. Go early or grab a reservation in advance.”

  • Pizzana <br><em> Brentwood </em>


    Come here for thin-crust pizza from Naples-born chef Daniele Uditi, as well really great iterations of carciofi and caprese. High ceilings and lots of natural light open up the narrow space, which is already buzzy at lunch time. Definitely make a reservation; wait times for dinner can be especially long. Note: The pizzas are generous in size—two or three people could comfortably split one (but trying two to share is a safer bet and also too hard to pass up). 

    NELSON SAYS: “Perfect for when you want to elevate pizza night with the kids. We’re known for our Neo-Neapolitan pies and signature slow-dough crust, but we have great salads and antipasti that appeal to adults, too. For dessert, kid-friendly options like our chocolate olive oil cake—there’s a grown-up version of a chocolate sheet cake that my kids also love—and, of course, the option for a simple bowl of Sprinkles vanilla ice cream with sprinkles and fudge.”

  • Ray’s and Stark Bar<br><em> West Hollywood </em>

    Ray’s and Stark Bar
    West Hollywood

    Located just behind Chris Burden’s oft-Instagrammed Urban Light installation, this museum restaurant, tucked inside LACMA, feels more like a neighborhood spot. Chef Fernando Darin’s kitchen consistently churns out thoughtful dishes—like roasted Japanese eggplant with risotto and pan-roasted halibut—that lean heavily on what’s in season, and the vibe is relaxed, with lots of outdoor seating. There’s a small but really good selection of wood-fired pizzas that are perfect to share with a group.

    NELSON SAYS: “Fresh California cuisine, craft cocktails, plus a kids’ menu. Make a day of it and take the kids to explore LACMA before settling in for a night of jazz on Friday nights through the summer. There’s plenty of space off the restaurant’s patio for the kids to run around.”