Articular cartilage exhibits little capacity for intrinsic repair, and thus even minor injuries or lesions may lead to progressive damage and osteoarthritic joint degeneration, resulting in significant pain and disability. While there have been numerous attempts to develop tissue-engineered grafts or patches to repair focal chondral and osteochondral defects, there remain significant challenges in the clinical application of cell-based therapies for cartilage repair. This paper reviews the current state of cartilage tissue engineering with respect to different cell sources and their potential genetic modification, biomaterial scaffolds and growth factors, as well as preclinical testing in various animal models. This is not intended as a systematic review, rather an opinion of where the field is moving in light of current literature. While significant advances have been made in recent years, the complexity of this problem suggests that a multidisciplinary approach - combining a clinical perspective with expertise in cell biology, biomechanics, biomaterials science and high-throughput analysis will likely be necessary to address the challenge of developing functional cartilage replacements. With this approach we are more likely to realise the clinical goal of treating both focal defects and even large-scale osteoarthritic degenerative changes in the joint.