Liver and pancreas progenitors develop from endoderm cells in the embryonic foregut. Shortly after their specification, liver and pancreas progenitors rapidly acquire markedly different cellular functions and regenerative capacities. These changes are elicited by inductive signals and genetic regulatory factors that are highly conserved among vertebrates. Interest in the development and regeneration of the organs has been fueled by the intense need for hepatocytes and pancreatic β cells in the therapeutic treatment of liver failure and type I diabetes. Studies in diverse model organisms have revealed evolutionarily conserved inductive signals and transcription factor networks that elicit the differentiation of liver and pancreatic cells and provide guidance for how to promote hepatocyte and β cell differentiation from diverse stem and progenitor cell types.