The Hero Factory: Lunch $10 and Under

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The Hero Factory. Just the name evokes an image of the Monsters Inc. Scream Factory turning out tiny superheroes instead of screams with the song "I need a Hero" from Footloose repeating in an endless loop. Fortunately, it's nothing like this terrifying movie mash-up. It's a slice of New York deli genius churning out the state's signature heroes, aka oversized hoagies/subs/etc., big enough for two for less than $10.

A monochromatic grey color scheme is the first signal this no-frills place is serious about sandwiches. Nicole, the owner, was behind the counter during our visit. Her thick New York accent is a good omen, and her genuine bluntness seals the deal: This is a true empire-state export.

Walk up to the counter and introduce yourself. People are on a first-name basis here. Then just try to commit to one of the hero options - A Manhattan with roast beef and melted mozzarella? A Skyline with a barbecue-smothered chicken cutlet and bleu cheese dressing? Or perhaps something more familiar like a Mr. Rueben, a Ms. Rachel or meatball?

The seafood salad special with fish and crab legs was tempting. But we opted for the egg salad, described by Nicole as the real deal: "eggs and mayo with nothing funny about it."

This might sound like an odd choice at a deli that serves up Boar's Head meats and cheeses, but the salads are all whipped up in-house in the signature New York style. An absolute must try.

The hero bread is the stuff of legend. Not only is it as long as your right arm, but it's soft, fresh and covered in sesame seeds. The bun's sliced down the center and piled high.

"We like to fill your belly," Nicole says.

Signature heroes run $7.95 and others about $7.25. Both are enough for either two people or two meals, but you'll probably find yourself fighting the urge to devour the second half as it sits on the tray in front of you.

Our egg salad hero was made to order with tomato, lettuce and onion. Salt and pepper gave it a little zip, but a little mustard and dill would add that something extra to make it truly memorable. We devoured it nonetheless.

Feeling extra hungry? Add on one of the homemade salads, order the politically charged "freedom fries" or grab a bag of chips. Thirsty? Take your pick of anything from Powerade to Perrier or any of the sodas, teas and juices in between.

If you're trying to eat a little lighter, you can forgo the hero (God forbid) in favor of white, wheat or rye bread, a wrap or a Kaiser bun - it'll save you a buck too. Salads are on the menu, as well, if you're feeling extra sacrilegious.

Tip: plan to eat early or late - or to wait. This place is swamped at noon, and the limited seating (six tables and one shared counter at the window) is likely to be taken. But don't wait too long, because Nicole closes shop at 3 p.m.

The Hero Factory 114 Adams St. #102 (Right off 1st Ave.) Phoenix 602.254.6763

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