Production of fuels and chemicals through microbial fermentation of plant material is a desirable alternative to petrochemical-based production. Fermentative production of biorenewable fuels and chemicals requires the engineering of biocatalysts that can quickly and efficiently convert sugars to target products at a cost that is competitive with existing petrochemical-based processes. It is also important that biocatalysts be robust to extreme fermentation conditions, biomass-derived inhibitors, and their target products. Traditional metabolic engineering has made great advances in this area, but synthetic biology has contributed and will continue to contribute to this field, particularly with next-generation biofuels. This work reviews the use of metabolic engineering and synthetic biology in biocatalyst engineering for biorenewable fuels and chemicals production, such as ethanol, butanol, acetate, lactate, succinate, alanine, and xylitol. We also examine the existing challenges in this area and discuss strategies for improving biocatalyst tolerance to chemical inhibitors.