A major challenge in cartilage tissue engineering is the need to recreate the native tissue's anisotropic extracellular matrix structure. This anisotropy has important mechanical and biological consequences and could be crucial for integrative repair. Here, we report that hydrodynamic conditions that mimic the motion-induced flow fields in between the articular surfaces in the synovial joint induce the formation of a distinct superficial layer in tissue engineered cartilage hydrogels, with enhanced production of cartilage matrix proteoglycan and Type II collagen. Moreover, the flow stimulation at the surface induces the production of the surface zone protein Proteoglycan 4 (aka PRG4 or lubricin). Analysis of second harmonic generation signature of collagen in this superficial layer reveals a highly aligned fibrillar matrix that resembles the alignment pattern in native tissue's surface zone, suggesting that mimicking synovial fluid flow at the cartilage surface in hydrodynamic bioreactors could be key to creating engineered cartilage with superficial zone features. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 1476–1486. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.