The α/β-hydrolase superfamily, comprised mainly of esterase and lipase enzymes, contains a family of bacterial C-C hydrolases, including MhpC and BphD which catalyze the hydrolytic C-C cleavage of meta-ring fission intermediates on the Escherichia coli phenylpropionic acid pathway and Burkholderia xenovorans LB400 biphenyl degradation pathway, respectively. Five active site amino acid residues (Arg-188, Asn-109, Phe-173, Cys-261, and Trp-264) were identified from sequence alignments that are conserved in C-C hydrolases, but not in enzymes of different function. Replacement of Arg-188 in MhpC with Gln and Lys led to 200- and 40-fold decreases, respectively, in kcat; the same replacements for Arg-190 of BphD led to 400- and 700-fold decreases, respectively, in kcat. Pre-steady-state kinetic analysis of the R188Q MhpC mutant revealed that the first step of the reaction, keto-enol tautomerization, had become rate-limiting, indicating that Arg-188 has a catalytic role in ketonization of the dienol substrate, which we propose is via substrate destabilization. Mutation of nearby residues Phe-173 and Trp-264 to Gly gave 4-10-fold reductions in kcat but 10-20-fold increases in Km, indicating that these residues are primarily involved in substrate binding. The X-ray structure of a succinate-H263A MhpC complex shows concerted movements in the positions of both Phe-173 and Trp-264 that line the approach to Arg-188. Mutation of Asn-109 to Ala and His yielded 200- and 350-fold reductions, respectively, in kcat and pre-steady-state kinetic behavior similar to that of a previous S110A mutant, indicating a role for Asn-109 is positioning the active site loop containing Ser-110. The catalytic role of Arg-188 is rationalized by a hydrogen bond network close to the C-1 carboxylate of the substrate, which positions the substrate and promotes substrate ketonization, probably via destabilization of the bound substrate.