The articular cartilage is a well-organized tissue for smooth and friction-free joint movement for locomotion in animals and humans. Adult articular cartilage has a very low self-regeneration capacity due to its avascular nature. The regeneration of articular cartilage surface is critical to prevent the progression to osteoarthritis (OA). Although various joint resurfacing procedures in experimental articular cartilage defects have been developed, no standardized clinical protocol has yet been established. The three critical ingredients for tissue regeneration are morphogens and growth factors, cells, and scaffolds. The concepts based on the regeneration triad have been extensively investigated in animal models. However, these studies in animal models have demonstrated variable results and outcomes. An optimal animal model must precisely mimic and model the sequence of events in articular cartilage regeneration in human. In this article, the progress and remaining challenges in articular cartilage regeneration in animal models are reviewed. The role of individual morphogens and growth factors in cartilage regeneration has been investigated. In normal articular cartilage homeostasis, morphogens and growth factors function sequentially in tissue regeneration. Mesenchymal stem cell-based repair of articular cartilage defects, performed with or without various growth factors and scaffolds, has been widely attempted in animal models. Stem cells, including embryonic and adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, have also been reported as attractive cell sources for articular cartilage surface regeneration. Several studies with regard to scaffolds have been advanced, including recent investigations based on nanomaterials, functional mechanocompatible scaffolds, multilayered scaffolds, and extracellular matrix scaffolds for articular cartilage surface regeneration. Continuous refinement of animal models in chondral and osteochondral defects provide opportunities that support further advances in tissue engineering for the optimal articular cartilage surface regeneration.