The metabolite 2-hydroxyglutarate (2HG) can be produced as either a D(R)- or L(S)- enantiomer, each of which inhibits alpha-ketoglutarate (αKG)-dependent enzymes involved in diverse biologic processes. Oncogenic mutations in isocitrate dehydrogenase produce D-2HG, which causes a pathologic blockade in cell differentiation. On the other hand, oxygen limitation leads to accumulation of L-2HG, which can facilitate physiologic adaptation to hypoxic stress in both normal and malignant cells. Here we demonstrate that purified lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and malate dehydrogenase (MDH) catalyze stereospecific production of L-2HG via ‘promiscuous’ reduction of the alternative substrate αKG. Acidic pH enhances production of L-2HG by promoting a protonated form of αKG that binds to a key residue in the substrate-binding pocket of LDHA. Acid-enhanced production of L-2HG leads to stabilization of hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha (HIF-1α) in normoxia. These findings offer insights into mechanisms whereby microenvironmental factors influence production of metabolites that alter cell fate and function.