Phenyllactic acid, a phenolic acid phytochemical with the antimicrobial activity, was rarely reported in food besides honey and sourdough. This study evidenced a new food source of phenyllactic acid and elucidated its metabolic mechanism. Phenyllactic acid naturally occurred in Chinese pickles with concentrations ranged from 0.02 to 0.30 mM in 23 pickle samples including homemade and commercial ones. Then, lactic acid bacteria capable of metabolizing phenyllactic acid were screened from each homemade pickle and a promising strain was characterized as Lactobacillus plantarum. Moreover, the investigation of the metabolic mechanism of phenyllactic acid in pickles suggested that the yield of phenyllactic acid was positively related to the content of phenylalanine in food, and the addition of phenylalanine as precursor substance could significantly promote the production of phenyllactic acid. This investigation could provide some insights into the accumulation of phenyllactic acid in pickle for long storage life.